loss

Loss is a part of life. In games, yes. But more seriously loss of spouse, marriage, child; job, career, dream; friends; reputation, status, opportunity. You name it.

Loss in life can make one jaded. You don’t trust others; you know they won’t accept you because you won’t, you can’t measure up. And this is a world often bereft of grace. But sadly it seems all too oftentimes that even the church isn’t grace-filled. Grace meaning acceptance as human beings and individuals into a fellowship/communion of truth and love.

I think one has to lick one’s wounds and go on. You have to find a church that does seek to uncompromisingly live in God’s grace. This is messy since we’re all a mess. None of us have it all together, and we will at times fail at each other’s expense. Hopefully we’re not referring to major failures, but sin is sin. It divides us, and if we let it, apart from God’s grace, it conquers us. Confession of sins and forgiveness and cleansing always available to us in Jesus.

Not only do we need to find a church that is faithful as a witness to the gospel, but we also need to plug into a small group in which we can pray for each other, help where needed, and hold each other accountable.

And we need to remain in the word, in Scripture, ourselves. Loss occurs in everyone’s life, and sometimes significant loss can seem to mark us, that we are a failure. That we didn’t live up to others’ expectations, who never knew us in the first place. Or for that matter, far more seriously, the Lord’s expectations.

There may be plenty of truth in that, indeed there’s some, but in Christ there’s always and forever God’s grace offering forgiveness and new life. Life out of death. Redemption from “determinism” or the inevitable, from the addiction one can’t break free of.

And there’s restoration. To the God-given special place for each one of us, helping us find and settle into the goodness God has for us in the good life and good works given to us. In and through Jesus.

grace and judgment

It seems in a way that grace and judgment are mutually exclusive in Scripture, like oil and water. They simply don’t mix. In other words, if I’m a person of grace, then I will at least reserve judging others to God. I wish it was that easy, but it’s not. In real life situations, we do have to make judgments along the way. I think the difference grace can make is the honest attempt, and even characteristic of one’s life to look at themselves first, and hold themselves in the mirror, while being reticent to do so with others.

Consistent judgment of others is evidence that one’s own heart is not imbued with grace. To be clear, grace here means God’s gift of forgiveness of sins and new life to those who don’t deserve it and never could. But grace doesn’t mean we turn a blind eye to a wrong, either. We may have to confront, but we do so in mercy and love. Confrontation is especially important when others are being mistreated. We do so with the hope of God’s grace being extended to the one in the wrong, that they might repent and find their way into God’s grace.

We leave all final judgment to God, and are tentative about our own perception of others. But we have to apply the best discernment we have from God to real world situations involving people. That can become messy in more ways than one, so we have to do that with the utmost humility.

So while grace and judgment in a way are separated, in another way they’re joined together. When necessary, we make judgments, but always couched in grace, so that we do so only out of love, and not for selfish motives. So that even when someone crosses us, we challenge them in love, always with the hope of reconciliation, ever ready to extend the hand of forgiveness, or cover over the sin. In and through Jesus.

grace instead of law: “I want to” compared to “I have to”

The law is not a necessary evil in scripture. The evil lies in us (Romans 7). The law tells us what we ought and ought not to do. The law is from God and is good.

What we need is grace, which amounts to God’s undeserved favor given to us in and through Christ. It is a gift that we receive, pure and simple. Through Christ’s death for us on the cross, we are forgiven of our sins when we repent and believe as in entrusting ourselves into God’s hands, and committing our lives to him.

Law necessarily condemns, but in grace there is never any condemnation. Christ has taken all the condemnation on himself at the cross. The Spirit is given to us, and we have the assurance that we are once for all time forgiven. But that doesn’t mean that the law no longer applies to us.

By grace through the Spirit we actually fulfill the requirement of the law, which in shorthand amounts to love, but not without details spelled out in scripture. For example, we don’t love our neighbor as ourselves when we commit adultery, or either do, or fail to do a number of things.

If we’re living under God’s grace, then we’re made both willing and able. And we in Christ are under grace, not under law (Romans 6). Law comes to us in a coercive way: we have to or else. Grace comes on us in a compelling way: we want to, period. Yes, out of love in love. And it’s a want to placed in us by God. As those who are forgiven and given new life in Jesus. To follow on and be victorious. In and through Jesus.

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.

 

 

grace is the answer, period (in Jesus, of course)

For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.

Titus 2:11-14

Much much Christianity, I’ve seen over the years. And grace has been sprinkled on all of that. First though, it would be good to give a definition or description of grace. Grace is God’s gift and favor to those who don’t deserve it, and could never earn it. Back to the original thought: Christianity is New Testament Christianity insofar as it is imbued with grace. And to understand that, we need to contrast it the same way the New Testament itself contrasts it: with law.

The law condemns us, because none of us lives up to its demands, or even can do so. The law ultimately points us to our need for a Savior. And that’s where God’s grace come in through Jesus and the cross, Jesus’s death. It is on the basis of Jesus’s death, by that and that alone by which we can be saved. And that is God’s gift of grace to us received by us through faith (Ephesians 2:8-9). And as the Titus passage above makes clear along with the Ephesians 2 passage, that opens us up to a new life. But grace alone is the means to forgiveness and new life in and through Jesus.

the ideal church in the US in the present

First of all, right off from the top, there is no ideal church. Unless one is going to push their denomination or way of being church, there are a number of differences, which actually was the case even in the earliest days of the church, once it expanded beyond Jerusalem. And so I’m going to accept those differences which are many, today. As long as we’re united by the gospel, the good news about Jesus, we can live with those differences. I believe that’s the case between Catholic and Protestant; Calvinists, Pentecostals and Anabaptists, etc., etc. As long as the good news in Jesus is intact, the teaching of his incarnation, life and teaching, death and resurrection, ascension and promise of his return, even the details surrounding that we can see differently, provided that we accept salvation by grace through faith with works following. I am not one to quibble over justification with the Catholics, though I myself accept the solos which became theologically prominent through the Reformation. But now to the main point of this post.

We live in a nation which to a significant extent has been built off the backs of slaves. And even after their emancipation through the Civil War, you tell most any black or African-American that they are free, and they will qualify that. And we lived through one hundred years of segregation along with the Jim Crow era. There have been other prejudices, too, and all of that can fit into the point I’m going to make next, but given the history of this nation, and the current controversy over police and race relations, I will put a clear emphasis on blacks and whites and the church.

I believe that in order to be the witness the nation and the world needs from a church here, there needs to be a deliberate change and commitment to a racial reconciliation in which the African-Americans have just as much say and leadership in a given church as the white largely European Caucasians such as myself. In a small church, that might look like a black senior pastor, with a ethnically mixed board of elders and deacons (or deacons, if that’s the way your church runs). In a larger church, it might ideally somehow be two or more associate pastors who share the teaching and pastoral role, black and white, white and black, not in any particular order. But to be sure that the church is not still really run by whites, there ought to be an emphasis given to black leadership.

Of course there are many black churches and denominations. When I was young, blacks weren’t even allowed to step inside of Southern Baptist churches, and I’m sure they were marginalized in many places. But maybe black churches need to pray about their witness, as well. Maybe it’s time for them to purposefully integrate. But I can’t speak for them. If we’re to overcome what Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. called the most integrated hour of the week, Sunday morning, than your normal church, made up of whites with a few blacks and African-Americans here and there, must take the lead. We are the ones on the side of history of the oppressors. They are on the side of the oppressed.

To be color blind doesn’t mean we just remain comfortably in our place. It means we purposefully integrate, not from some law or order from government, but as part of the heart of the call of the gospel. To express by the Spirit the unity we all have through the good news in Jesus. Regardless of our ethnicity, background, political views, etc. But in the case of blacks and whites, this will require more.

Given our history, this unity is not just something we blithely put in place, even with some hard effort to accept and learn to appreciate our cultural differences. There must also be at the heart of all of this, reconciliation. And this reconciliation must include forgiveness on both sides: the blacks and African-Americans forgiving the whites for slavery in the first place, and all the mistreatment which followed. And the whites forgiving African-Americans and blacks for any and every sinful response that followed. And all of this, while it should be put into place in a church through the gospel, is a process in which we can’t imagine at a given point we’ve arrived. The wall of hostility is broken down through the gospel, through Jesus’s death, but the unity of the Spirit which follows requires every effort to maintain, and grow in. As we grow up together into the mature body of Christ that we’re called to become. A growth that is ongoing, and something we already are in Christ by the Spirit, but learning to live by and into the implications of all of that.

This is a great need in the church today. The way we do church just won’t do, I’m afraid, or at least it will be lacking, if this isn’t a priority well beyond just hoping others who are different might begin to trickle in. All of this in and through Jesus.

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.