better days are coming

“‘The days are coming,’ declares the Lord, ‘when I will fulfill the good promise I made to the people of Israel and Judah.

“‘In those days and at that time
I will make a righteous Branch sprout from David’s line;
he will do what is just and right in the land.
In those days Judah will be saved
and Jerusalem will live in safety.
This is the name by which it[c] will be called:
The Lord Our Righteous Savior.’

Jeremiah 33:14-16

One of my favorite pastors used to say, “The best is yet to come!” And that’s true in God’s world. In the world in which we live, which in the end is also God’s world we see trouble piled on trouble, no end of it. If it isn’t one thing it’s another and another and then the next problem. There’s always something. And it’s not just problems we might solve, but issues far beyond us. And we can thank only ourselves collectively as well as individually for much of the mess we’re in.

But God’s promise in Jesus is that better days are coming. God can’t wait to forgive and pour out God’s love on us. This does require repentance of sins, of our own foolish ways. All we have to be is honest to God, to others. God will take care of everything in the end. In the meantime God helps us, setting us on a course to be a part of solution the world needs, nothing short of God’s kingdom and that kingdom come in Jesus.

But we can take solace and even find relief with the thought that good days are ahead. That the problem or problems, troubles and trials which weigh in on us will someday be a thing of the past. It will all be gone. This can help us in the present, not to ignore hard reality, but not be suffocated in it, either. God will help us now as we look forward to the day when it will all be gone. In and through Jesus.

love fearlessly

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.

We love because he first loved us. Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.

1 John 4:16b-21

The sermon I heard yesterday, “Love Fearlessly,” seemed to turn the normal interpretation of this passage on its head, I might say in typical Anabaptist fashion. The passage itself bears this interpretation. If we know that God’s love for us is absolute and sure no matter what we face or even what we’ve done, then we can love others with that same kind of love. And God’s love experienced and lived in by us banishes our fear, so that we can love others fearlessly.

Christ took care of sin’s claim on us through his death, so we need not fear. Instead we can accept God’s love for us and share that same love with others, all others. This is the love that through Christ truly wins forever.

Our experience goes in and out so that we can’t wait on experiencing God’s perfect love to the point that our fear is gone. Yes, we’ll experience that at times, but we need by faith to accept that love in spite of our fears. And we need to love others even when we’re afraid. Loving fearlessly means we push through our fears with that love which ultimately drives out all fear.

To be lived out in community and in our individual everyday lives. Something I want to be working on from every conceivable angle. In and through Jesus.

don’t confront anyone except…

“If your brother or sister sins against you, rebuke them; and if they repent, forgive them. Even if they sin against you seven times in a day and seven times come back to you saying ‘I repent,’ you must forgive them.”

Luke 17:3b-4

“Be alert. If you see your friend going wrong, correct him. If he responds, forgive him. Even if it’s personal against you and repeated seven times through the day, and seven times he says, ‘I’m sorry, I won’t do it again,’ forgive him.”

Luke 17:3-4; MSG

Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted.

Galatians 6:1

Live creatively, friends. If someone falls into sin, forgivingly restore him, saving your critical comments for yourself. You might be needing forgiveness before the day’s out.

Galatians 6:1; MSG

I think what the Lord tells us along with the rest of Scripture is that we’re to never confront or try to correct anyone except out of and in love. We should do so with tears so to speak, never imagining the falsehood that we’re better than the other person, not for one moment. We ought to know better than that. We’re all in this together, and it may not be long before we need some loving correction ourselves.

First though we need to pray and pray some more. We don’t jump into confronting people over a sin. At the same time we want to take all sin seriously. Or if we see something that might possibly be sin, that doesn’t look right, we might do well to ask questions. But only after prayer. And to do all of this within a relationship of love.

We should never be looking for what is wrong or might be in others. Yes, we need to keep our eyes open, but first and foremost we should be concerned about what is wrong with ourselves. And in prayer for God to reveal that to us, that we might always be sensitive to whatever is not right inwardly and outwardly through the light of discernment God gives us. And we’ll know better when we’re wrong, but we need God’s help in this. But we don’t do well if we fail to help others from what could end up being a devastating fall for them, affecting many badly.

Any confrontation and correction must be done gently, out of love. Not an easy task. I guess that’s why it’s not done. And we rebel against such. But we need to be committed to this, not only to give, but to also receive it when need be. But it’s not in the cards in our church life, or so it seems to me. Or it’s done in something other than a loving way, maybe perfunctory as mere duty, or even worse, in anger and arrogance. I’m thankful to now be part of a tradition which is committed to this, though not at all in some legalistic, threatening way.

May God help us in this. In and through Jesus.

one of the devil’s many but most effective lies

Soak me in your laundry and I’ll come out clean,
scrub me and I’ll have a snow-white life.
Tune me in to foot-tapping songs,
set these once-broken bones to dancing.
Don’t look too close for blemishes,
give me a clean bill of health.
God, make a fresh start in me,
shape a Genesis week from the chaos of my life.
Don’t throw me out with the trash,
or fail to breathe holiness in me.
Bring me back from gray exile,
put a fresh wind in my sails!
Give me a job teaching rebels your ways
so the lost can find their way home.
Commute my death sentence, God, my salvation God,
and I’ll sing anthems to your life-giving ways.
Unbutton my lips, dear God;
I’ll let loose with your praise.

Psalm 51:7-15; MSG

I don’t know why this is not included online, but this is Eugene Peterson’s rendering in The Message Bible of the ascription given to the psalm, part of the inspired text or not, but certainly steeped in tradition: “A DAVID PSALM, AFTER HE WAS CONFRONTED BY NATHAN ABOUT THE AFFAIR WITH BATHSHEBA.” This may well have been written by David during that time (2  Samuel 11-12). Whatever the case, the psalm itself lends its voice to whoever and whatever. It is general enough, that it includes all who have sinned grievously in big ways, as well as perhaps small yet willful acts which also need repentance and God’s cleansing, saving work.

One of the devil’s big lies, which we need to learn to recognize and reject is the lie that certain sins put people beyond the pale of usefulness to God. I know when a pastor falls there is disagreement as to whether after repentance and time for restoration he or she can be reinstated to their pastoral position. I tend to think so myself, but that’s not specifically what we’re dealing with here. There’s no doubt that such sins can haunt the one who is guilty as is evident in Psalm 51 itself, and that there will be fallout or consequences from it, as we see in the case of David (see 2 Samuel 13-15, also 12:10-14).

But we need to get rid of the notion and again outright lie for sure that such a person can no longer be useful in God’s service in love to others. I know this is old covenant, but David himself was not stripped of his position as king, nor of honor as we see Jesus himself called “the son of David” as not just a fact, but as likely an honorific title. How much more in the new covenant can such a one be restored?! I think of this passage about an erring sinner in the church:

Now, regarding the one who started all this—the person in question who caused all this pain—I want you to know that I am not the one injured in this as much as, with a few exceptions, all of you. So I don’t want to come down too hard. What the majority of you agreed to as punishment is punishment enough. Now is the time to forgive this man and help him back on his feet. If all you do is pour on the guilt, you could very well drown him in it. My counsel now is to pour on the love.

The focus of my letter wasn’t on punishing the offender but on getting you to take responsibility for the health of the church. So if you forgive him, I forgive him. Don’t think I’m carrying around a list of personal grudges. The fact is that I’m joining in with your forgiveness, as Christ is with us, guiding us. After all, we don’t want to unwittingly give Satan an opening for yet more mischief—we’re not oblivious to his sly ways!

2 Corinthians 2:5-11; MSG

We need to get rid of the notion, yes the lie, once for all that when a person sins bigtime there’s nothing left for them, except forgiveness of their sin when they confess it. Surely they should live in deep humility the rest of their lives. But they also need “to inhabit [others’] forgiveness and God’s forgiveness,” to accept that as a matter of fact and reality.

This truth must never be abused to mean that I can do what I please, even though it’s sinful, knowing that in the end full restoration will happen. That is both dangerous to the person doing it, who may in fact not see fit to repent, not to mention the damage that occurs. We can’t have both our way and God’s way. At the same time, we also must not set aside God’s amazing grace for all sinners, including those who have abused this truth, who return to him in genuine repentance, not just sorry about the consequences of their sin, but that they sinned against God and against others.

In and through Jesus.

what John “the elder” and beloved apostle of our Lord might say to us now from 1 John 2:12-14

I am writing to you, dear children,
because your sins have been forgiven on account of his name.
I am writing to you, fathers,
because you know him who is from the beginning.
I am writing to you, young men,
because you have overcome the evil one.

I write to you, dear children,
because you know the Father.
I write to you, fathers,
because you know him who is from the beginning.
I write to you, young men,
because you are strong,
and the word of God lives in you,
and you have overcome the evil one.

1 John 2:12-14

I remind you, my dear children: Your sins are forgiven in Jesus’ name. You veterans were in on the ground floor, and know the One who started all this; you newcomers have won a big victory over the Evil One.

And a second reminder, dear children: You know the Father from personal experience. You veterans know the One who started it all; and you newcomers—such vitality and strength! God’s word is so steady in you. Your fellowship with God enables you to gain a victory over the Evil One.

1 John 2:12-14; MSG

John might just tell us here something like we’re equipped by God for the time, to meet the demands before us. A lot of that is just the continuing on in every day life, in the necessary work we have to do. Another essential part of this is the love we’re to show to others, particularly our own family.

But then we also have to address the difficult times in which we live. What God wants us to be and do now. From this letter we can say it is the life of Christ in our midst that makes all the difference. John specifies certain things here: having our sins forgiven in Jesus’s name, knowing God, having God’s word in us: in our hearts, bones, lives. And thus standing in the victory of God in Christ over the evil one.

John would tell us that God gives us all we need for the present time. It’s up to us to live it out individually and together. We’re beholden to nothing more or nothing less. In and through Jesus.

if John “the elder,” the beloved apostle were here today: 1 John 1:5-2:2

This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all[b] sin.

If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us.

My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.

1 John 1:5-2:2

This, in essence, is the message we heard from Christ and are passing on to you: God is light, pure light; there’s not a trace of darkness in him.

If we claim that we experience a shared life with him and continue to stumble around in the dark, we’re obviously lying through our teeth—we’re not living what we claim. But if we walk in the light, God himself being the light, we also experience a shared life with one another, as the sacrificed blood of Jesus, God’s Son, purges all our sin.

If we claim that we’re free of sin, we’re only fooling ourselves. A claim like that is errant nonsense. On the other hand, if we admit our sins—simply come clean about them—he won’t let us down; he’ll be true to himself. He’ll forgive our sins and purge us of all wrongdoing. If we claim that we’ve never sinned, we out-and-out contradict God—make a liar out of him. A claim like that only shows off our ignorance of God.

I write this, dear children, to guide you out of sin. But if anyone does sin, we have a Priest-Friend in the presence of the Father: Jesus Christ, righteous Jesus. When he served as a sacrifice for our sins, he solved the sin problem for good—not only ours, but the whole world’s.

1 John 1:5-2:2; MSG

John here is talking about the light believers in Christ are to be living in, in contrast to the darkness. It’s the light of God no less, the God who is light. Our walk in this world is to be in that light and in nothing else. C.S. Lewis pointed out, in that light we see everything else much clearer and for what it truly is.  Anything other than that light is darkness. It doesn’t matter what it is, if that’s the “light” we’re living in, it’s actually darkness. And we’re sinning.

Yes, we maybe are no longer called “sinners” or “unrighteous” in Scripture, in fact we’re called “saints” or “holy people.” But this passage makes it clear that we still need a Savior. We still have sin, what I just heard a pastor call “sin sickness” in our lives which needs to be healed, or taken care of by God, not only legally, but fully.

We’re called to simply acknowledge our sins, ongoing, something which we’re to practice in our lives. At the same time John wants to help us to not actually commit the sin we would inevitably stumble into, left to ourselves. It’s a matter of walking in the light, in the light of the God who is light.

In this blessing we have a shared life, fellowship with one another as the blood of Jesus through his sacrificial death on the cross continues to cleanse us from all sin. When we do sin, as we confess it to God and when need be to those we’ve sinned against, that sacrifice of Christ takes care of it.

This is the reality in Jesus in which believers are called to live. To understand more fully what John is telling us here, we need to read the rest of the letter. But for the moment we’re let in on this marvelous reality for all of us in our individual lives and together. In and through Jesus.

God works with imperfect, even broken people, people who don’t have it altogether

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby…

Luke 2:8a

I go to the famous Christmas passage, but just to consider one aspect of it, we could say pre-Christmas, and fitting well into Advent maybe in the sense that God’s coming may take us by surprise. Shepherds did move around, but their way of life was the same. They lived with their flocks of sheep, taking care of them, especially on guard at night. The group here who witnessed the angelic hosts proclaiming the Lord’s birth were surely just as ordinary as any of us. But they also were each and everyone created by God, loved by God, and each gifted by God. Yes, in humble work, but didn’t our Lord live in obscurity? Surely good in its place, but not anything extraordinary. Our Lord has been there.

I’m so glad that God mercifully in grace reveals himself to us, and works with us right where we are. One of the many lies from the evil one (Satan, the satan meaning the opposer) is that if we get out of line this way or that, God will no longer deal with us. That is a plain out old fashioned lie. Christ died for our sins. In him we are forgiven as we accept that sacrifice of love for ourselves. God certainly wants to help us do better, and grow spiritually. But God will not abandon us, the work of his hands both in creation and now in new creation in Jesus.

Of course again, I’m not talking about us living in out and out sin. Even then God will seek to rescue us in God’s deep love. But none of us have it altogether. We all have our weaknesses, and faults along the way. So glad the Lord wants to meet us there, right where we’re at. So that we can receive his blessing directly and through others, and be a blessing to others. Just like the shepherds of old. In and through Jesus.

peacemaking and persecution

Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Matthew 5:9-12

At the end of what has often been called the Beatitudes, Jesus possibly juxtaposes two thoughts side by side which are related, but at odds with each other.

How can you be a peacemaker, yet be on the short end, indeed experiencing violence? Enter the world of Jesus.

Jesus was indeed a peacemaker, from Scripture we say by the blood of his cross, and that’s for sure. He took human wrath on himself to end human wrath. We say God’s wrath, but I would prefer to say God’s wrath against evil. God in judgment took the wrath of humankind on himself there at the cross, to end it once for all. And peacemakers following Jesus indeed need to point this out.

Peacemaking as Jesus was describing it here definitely was related to the forgiveness of sins and reconciliation later established by the cross. For us on the ground now it’s a matter of promoting peace on God’s terms, the peace of the kingdom established in Jesus. It is a peace grounded in faith and allegiance to King Jesus, and a peace based on his teaching and life. Made possible again through his death. We can’t do this on our own.

But even when we are people of peace, the peace spoken of here, that doesn’t mean we don’t end up becoming victims of war, violent opposition, violence in one form or another (Psalm 120). Certainly in being cursed, verbal violence, but sometimes suffering physical persecution. For us in the United States, this seems remote, of another world for good reason. We rarely if ever face one such incident of actual physical persecution during our lifetime. That probably speaks more of the society in which we live, but I wonder if we were more faithful in following Christ if we would see some incidents of it.

Is our persecution really because of righteousness and what is just, as well as for Christ? A good test might be if we’re truly becoming peacemakers in the way of Christ. Otherwise the “persecution” we experience might indeed need to be put in quotes, more about ourselves and our offenses, and less if at all about the offense of Jesus.

Would that life would be this black and white. Unfortunately there are times when it is partly our fault. We may not understand why, it may be nothing blatant or known on our part. Then there are the times we stumble and know better. Ironically those end up easier for us to make peace by simply asking for forgiveness. The other times, we know that somehow our weakness might be in play, but we have knowingly done nothing wrong.

It is hard to know what to do. To be as wise as serpents, but harmless as doves is surely something we need to be considering here. But we may just have to take what persecution comes our way, hopefully God doing a work for good in the one persecuting us, so that they might repent and change due to the love of God present even through us, in and through Jesus.

God’s grace from start to finish

Now those who had been scattered by the persecution that broke out when Stephen was killed traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus and Antioch, spreading the word only among Jews. Some of them, however, men from Cyprus and Cyrene, went to Antioch and began to speak to Greeks also, telling them the good news about the Lord Jesus. The Lord’s hand was with them, and a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord.

News of this reached the church in Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch. When he arrived and saw what the grace of God had done, he was glad and encouraged them all to remain true to the Lord with all their hearts. He was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith, and a great number of people were brought to the Lord.

Then Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, and when he found him, he brought him to Antioch. So for a whole year Barnabas and Saul met with the church and taught great numbers of people. The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch.

Acts 11:19-26

I particularly would like to dwell for a moment on one part of this passage.

When [Barnabas] arrived and saw what the grace of God had done, he was glad and encouraged them all to remain true to the Lord with all their hearts.

God’s grace is God’s gift given to those who are undeserving. By simple faith it is received. That gift is in Christ, in God’s salvation in him, forgiveness for our sins through Christ’s death, and new, eternal life through his resurrection.

God’s grace is what we have to depend on. It never ever for a moment depends on us. We can live in this new life only by God’s grace. We are completely dependent on it. In that grace we find the sheer goodness of God, and that God keeps his promise in Christ to those who we no longer depend on themselves, but on Christ.

Of course we can’t merit this gift. As Paul points out in Romans 4, it would no longer be a gift if we could.

Later we read concerning another missionary venture by Paul and Barnabas:

…many of the Jews and devout converts to Judaism followed Paul and Barnabas, who talked with them and urged them to continue in the grace of God.

Acts 13:43b

It is God’s grace, his gift in Christ that we’re always and forever dependent on. Revolutionary to the Jews during that time, who supposed the Law of Moses remained binding on them as God’s people. But still revolutionary in our day. Really in every time and place. We’re to continue and indeed can only continue in the faith through that grace/gift, and nothing else. In and through Jesus.

vindication from God our Savior

Who may ascend the mountain of the Lord?
Who may stand in his holy place?
The one who has clean hands and a pure heart,
who does not trust in an idol
or swear by a false god.

They will receive blessing from the Lord
and vindication from God their Savior.
Such is the generation of those who seek him,
who seek your face, God of Jacob.

Psalm 24

When I read in the psalms about God vindicating his people, I think how undeserving I am of such vindication. And this is a psalm of David, who doesn’t seem that worthy of vindication when you consider his great sin of adultery and murder. But maybe that is meant to be an encouragement to the rest of us who, while we may have not committed such an act, still know we’re so undeserving because of what we have done, left undone, and because of grievous attitudes in our heart at times.

Just to make it clear what vindication means, it involves someone being proven to be in the right. When one thinks about that, one can’t help but think of God’s grace without which none of us would ever be in the right in the first place.

What especially stood out to me today in reading this great psalm is the line: “They will receive…vindication from God their Savior.” I think that helps us understand how God’s people are vindicated. It’s not because of them, but the God who saves them.

N. T. Wright helped me see from the psalms how God’s righteousness is tied to God’s salvation of his people. God’s saving act includes vindicating his people, who apart from that would never be vindicated. Of course this goes beyond what we deserve, because when we read all of the psalms and the rest of Scripture we understand that no one deserves vindication in themselves. We’re all sinners.

We receive vindication from God because of our faith and the difference God makes in our lives. We are different through and through, not wanting to do what is wrong, but wanting to do what’s right, even while we do fail along the way. It’s God’s working that makes us want to face our true selves, repent, and walk in God’s way, and keep doing that again and again with our ongoing confession of our sins, and endeavor to walk anew and afresh in God’s will for us in Christ.

And so we can be encouraged with this thought. God’s vindication of us is completely not because of us, but because of God, as by faith he credits righteousness to us, and helps us to want to live accordingly, even in the midst of our inevitable stumbling. God will vindicate us, yes, each one of us, in and through Jesus.