God will judge

For the director of music. For pipes. A psalm of David.

Listen to my words, Lord,
consider my lament.
Hear my cry for help,
my King and my God,
for to you I pray.

In the morning, Lord, you hear my voice;
in the morning I lay my requests before you
and wait expectantly.
For you are not a God who is pleased with wickedness;
with you, evil people are not welcome.
The arrogant cannot stand
in your presence.
You hate all who do wrong;
you destroy those who tell lies.
The bloodthirsty and deceitful
you, Lord, detest.
But I, by your great love,
can come into your house;
in reverence I bow down
toward your holy temple.

Lead me, Lord, in your righteousness
because of my enemies—
make your way straight before me.
Not a word from their mouth can be trusted;
their heart is filled with malice.
Their throat is an open grave;
with their tongues they tell lies.
Declare them guilty, O God!
Let their intrigues be their downfall.
Banish them for their many sins,
for they have rebelled against you.
But let all who take refuge in you be glad;
let them ever sing for joy.
Spread your protection over them,
that those who love your name may rejoice in you.

Surely, Lord, you bless the righteous;
you surround them with your favor as with a shield.

Psalm 5

God will judge. And praise God for that. Too often we turn up our nose at the idea of God’s judgment when in reality it’s needed against the evil of this world. Yes, God loves people and hates sin, but in this psalm it says that God hates certain evildoers. Some might say that’s poetic, and just David’s thoughts before God. But it seems to me there’s truth in that thought. Where is the fear of God nowadays? Seems like God is not much more than a big sugar daddy or spoiling grandfather to many, and we’re all his lap children, if God is in the equation at all. And we can do as we please.

This psalm is just an example of the treasure we have in the book of Psalms. It is good for us to go through the psalms on a regular basis and let it soak in. And keep reading all of Scripture along with it, in prayer. Yes, God will judge, and we can be thankful for that. As we live in the grace and salvation given to us in and through Jesus.

speaking against other believers unlawfully

Brothers and sisters, do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against a brother or sister or judges them speaks against the law and judges it. When you judge the law, you are not keeping it, but sitting in judgment on it. There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you—who are you to judge your neighbor?

James 4:11-12

James has a lot to say about the tongue. This section follows, or perhaps (as NIV heading might suggest) is part of what preceded on submitting oneself to God, and one can see the possible connection with the opening thought on quarreling and not getting along.

To slander is to speak some untruth against someone, but the word might only mean to speak against someone, period, even if what is said is the truth. Only God knows the entire truth, and the truth through and through, so that we must beware of thinking we know in any final sense.

And when we speak in that way we also somehow put ourselves in the place of God. God alone gave the law, and God alone can make judgments based on it. Our judgment invariably won’t measure up to God’s, nor will our application of the law. In fact we will be so amiss, that we in effect will be judging the law itself. Exactly what that means is hard to pinpoint, except to say that our judgment on others inevitably means we are judging the law, and not getting at the true meaning of it, making the law into something other than it is. It is for living according to God’s will in love. We simply are incapable of making any such judgments on others.

And that’s what might be key to understanding the passage. It is referring to judging others in a sense in which we can’t. There are necessary judgments in life which we must make and receive. And best to do so together, always in a prayerful attitude.

What we might take home from this is simply to be cautious, so that if and when we speak we will do so in complete humility, emphasizing mercy, and God’s work in the entire process. Only God can convict the wrongdoer, and bring them to repentance. We can’t. We may necessarily have to confront someone, but we do so gently in love, realizing that we can easily fall into sin ourselves. But we are included in God’s work of restoration (Galatians 6).

We must beware of taking matters in our own hands, and brashly applying the law, when inevitably we who judge do the same things ourselves (Romans 2). When we stand in that kind of judgment of others, inevitably we not only distort what they did due to our own sin, but we also distort the law itself, somehow making it conform to our own understanding, beset with a heart not right, and therefore not seeing everything clearly. Only God can judge, convict, sentence, and redeem. We can’t.

So we best take a cautious attitude. And not slander or speak against our brother or sister even when our gut reaction is to do so. When we have to consider problems, we best do so before God, and when necessary, together. And not tolerate anything that doesn’t accentuate mercy along with the utmost humility concerning our own weakness and shortcomings.

Peter’s denial

“You will all fall away,” Jesus told them, “for it is written:

“‘I will strike the shepherd,
    and the sheep will be scattered.’

But after I have risen, I will go ahead of you into Galilee.”

Peter declared, “Even if all fall away, I will not.”

Mark 14:27-29

During what we call Holy Week, not long before Jesus’s crucifixion, we find one of the disciples, Judas, betraying his Lord and friend, and another who was more or less the leader of the Twelve, Peter, denying him even with curses. I think sometimes we just push Judas to the side as a reprobate, without understanding Jesus’s love for him, and disappointment in what he did. On the other hand, I think we also tend to minimize what Peter did in denying the Lord, chalking it up to just the weakness of the flesh. While that is indeed the case, and Peter failed to lead the way in praying in the garden of Gethsemane as the Lord told them to (Mark 14:32-42), what Peter did was indeed serious, a grievous sin in openly denying his Lord. Of course after the resurrection and ascension of the Lord, and Pentecost when the Holy Spirit was poured out, he would boldly proclaim his Lord in the face of strong opposition, even death. But in the story surrounding Holy Week, we’re certainly not there yet.

This was both a painful, yet important event for Peter’s sanctification in learning, awareness, and growth, just as it is for ours, as we look back on it, and probably experience something of the same in our own lives. Note how Peter probably saw himself, or was at least open to the thought that he was a cut above all the rest of the disciples. Pride. And of course we read in scripture that pride goes before destruction (Proverbs 16:18). Certainly this is an apt word for each one of us. Any of us are as capable of falling as anyone else (1 Corinthians 10:12-13). The moment we think we’ve arrived is the moment we’re in danger.

What was the difference between Judas and Peter? That’s a big subject, probably much to say from scripture and theology in trying to come up with some sort of answer for that. Simply here, after Peter’s failure, he had the grace of tears (Mark 14:66-72). But Judas seemed to be choked with self-condemnation, and the blame along with the destruction that can go with it. So that instead of a broken and contrite heart that could have led to repentance (Psalm 51), Judas succumbed to the enemy’s voice in rejecting the salvation that is always available in Jesus. Instead he heaped the blame on himself, taking matters in his own hands by tragically ending his life (Matthew 27:1-10).

We have all failed sometime along the way. We have either betrayed our Lord, denied him, or probably somehow both, at one point or another, perhaps a number of times. And maybe not overtly, but in more subtle, deceptive ways, so that we were failing to follow. Weeping while having a broken spirit, and contrite heart is good (again, note Psalm 51). Self-condemnation is not good. Only God is the judge, and God extends salvation to all who are under his just and righteous judgment. Of course on the terms that they would repent, just as Peter did. That possibility is open to us all.

And so, the great salvation of our Lord. Even to us deniers, who in our weakness and sin fail to follow at times. So that we might better understand, appreciate and experience what our Lord did for us on that cross.

God’s measuring line

It’s that more or less dreaded time of the year for job reviews, which in the case where I work end up being rather routine and relatively short, after which we might chat a bit about something else to not end our session too soon. Still, this is not my favorite exercise except that it can be a time of both encouragement and vision in terms of development. For me, I’m getting closer and closer to the end of my work days, even if to some extent I never plan to quit working altogether, as long as I’m able.

I think too of the assessment of others, either in terms of once accepting and even appreciating, but in time completely (so it seems) writing one off, or in terms of praise received. These can be both discouraging, as well as encouraging. What ends up being the bottom line for me is that I am simply a servant with significant limitations for sure, but one who offers the little I have to the Master who can take the five loaves and two small fishes and feed them to a multitude. This is certainly true for each and every one of us, in and through Jesus.

The evaluation which counts is the Lord’s evalution of ourselves, of our works. Everything is of grace for sure, we don’t do anything that is of God apart from God. There may be good humans do which moves God, as was true in the case of Cornelius the Roman centurion in the book of Acts, who feared God, gave to the poor, and helped the Jews in their religious setting. Prevenient grace, the teaching that God’s grace precedes so that only by that grace sinners can repent and believe and do well in God’s sight, as well as the common grace God gives to all by which mothers self-sacrificially care for their young, along with a whole host of other human activities we find good and even at times inspiring, these are all in the mix, when we consider the evaluation of our lives and what we do (and don’t do).

So for me, while I really do appreciate encouragement, and can see that as from the Lord, even when given by another human, perhaps helping overcome despair, the one evaluation which for me in the end matters, is exactly what our Lord will say on that Day, the day when our lives and works are evaluated.

One of the keys is to prepare well now. And a very necessary part of that is to judge ourselves, with the help of the Lord. In a certain sense, we can’t do that at all. God is the Judge, and only God sees everything as it truly is. But in a different yet related sense, we do need to judge ourselves, depending on God to give us discernment to do so, primarily in terms of confession of sin, and change in getting rid of whatever sin we might be dealing with since we have the promise of cleansing in this life, in the progressive sanctification for holiness that is ours in our Lord.

This never negates our need for further confession and cleansing, sanctification in being set apart to God to be holy, a life-long process. But other than never getting beyond temptation to sin in this life, we should be making progress, so that what might have been characteristic of us years ago, is now either unthinkable, or at least an exception to the rule, or at the very least we are ultra sensitive to the danger of such, so that we want to do our best to distance ourselves from it.

All of this to say that in the end it is God’s measuring line which counts. And that standard is Jesus himself. We are not only believers in Jesus, but followers of him, as well. So that our lives are to be taking on more and more of his likeness. So that even if in complying to the standards imposed on us elsewhere, we know we do so only because they are required of us in that context, of course as long as they don’t violate God’s will for us in Jesus, we want in everything to be pleasing to God which we know is always completely from and because of God’s grace, and to God’s glory.

Jesus is the measuring line for us all, and the Spirit helps us see just what that means for us in the course of a day, with reference to the demands placed on us, and concerning the issues which face us, especially in living and working with others, some of which might rub us the wrong way. The question for us remains, what does God want of us, even as we seek to comply with what humans expect from us.

We know it is the Lord’s evaluation which matters in the end. We want to encourage each other, but above all, pray for each other, for God’s greatest good, God’s best in each life. Knowing the Lord is able to make us stand in his grace, and go on, with the goal of hopefully being more and more formed into his likeness.

who is the final judge?

I think often we Christians don’t do well to try to win arguments, and yet on the other hand, I think there is a place for argumentation as in trying to persuade someone else. So it depends on what our motive is, as well as the soundness of our position which we are sharing.

Sometimes we all too easily step aside because we are so impressed with another who is arguing their point. Part of the world I live in, actually now I think a significantly smaller part than it used to be, is thinking through aspects of theology. This aspect of the Christian theological world is seen in books such as Four Views on the Apostle Paul (Counterpoints: Bible and Theology) (Michael F. Bird (Author), Stanley N. Gundry (Series Editor), Thomas R. Schreiner (Contributor), Luke Timothy Johnson (Contributor), Douglas A. Campbell (Contributor), Mark D. Nanos (Contributor). I would love to have the time to read this book and think through its contents. I would land somewhere, but in the process of landing I may be quite impressed with some of the arguments set forth by more than one of the contributors, so that in the end, even though I’m settled on a position, I am keeping other counterpoints in mind. Such is the world of theology, biblical studies, theologians and Bible scholars.

In other places we seek to live well: in everyday matters, in special situations, in reference to issues or problems that come our way. Hopefully in collaboration with others, or at least from what wisdom we’ve gathered from others we make a judgment and go with it. That is part of God’s will for us that we do the best we can to prayerfully discern his will, what is best, or what is good for a particular situation, occasion, or issue.

In the end none of us will get everything right. And on something or other, more like on a number of things, we may be wrong, period. However the question that is essential is simply are we on to what is essential as Christians in following Jesus? Essentials such as loving God and our neighbor, seeing the gospel of King Jesus as paramount and as speaking into all of life with reference to God’s good will.

God alone is the final judge. We do well not to jump to conclusions, but to see ourselves as those in process and on a journey. I believe there are many ways of living out and expressing God’s good will and revelation in Jesus. Hence the different traditions we have in the church. I’m not sure there is one that is closer to the ideal, that is God’s will, but maybe there are a number which while different, are truly Christ’s body on earth. One case in point: I hold to believer’s baptism, yes, even by immersion. But others baptize babies with a thoughtful theology on this (see this excellent book on this subject). I think it is essential to obey Christ’s command to baptize (with all respect to our Quaker friends, and to any others who don’t baptize). How we do it may not be spelled out clear enough that there actually is one right position. Of course on such matters, we interpret and arrive to our position. God is the final judge on that, and the different expressions I think God in his grace accepts.

In the end again, God is the final judge. And in the end, who of us doesn’t want to hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful in a few things. I will make you ruler over many things. Come and enter into your Master’s happiness!” Yes, that is the judgment in and through Jesus that in the end really matters. As we endeavor together to live according to God’s will in Jesus in and for the world.

practice makes perfect

When we consider love, it is not enough that God loved the world. But he loved the world so much, or in this way, in that he sent his Son into the world. What we’ve been celebrating this Advent season.

What we do is important. We need to watch that, in order to test our love, insofar as that’s possible. Jesus said, “If you love me, you will obey my commandments.” There you have it. We say we love Jesus, and by God’s grace in him, we do. But that needs to be evident in keeping his commandments. If we don’t obey him, we do well to question our love for him. That should be characteristic of our lives, in spite of our failings.

Practice makes perfect. Which means we not only need to do the good, what God would have us to do, something often clear (it’s not what we can’t understand, but what we can, which should trouble us) as in a directive or command in scripture, such as “forgive one another,” or something we discern. We also need to watch that we aren’t doing what is displeasing to God, directly violating his directives for us, as in holding grudges, judging our brother or sister, etc.

Emotions are not to be despised or ignored, they are important. We don’t want to fall into a Kantian embrace of the ought, which surely has impacted our understanding of spirituality in ways foreign to God’s revelation in Jesus found in scripture. Emotions are indeed important in more ways than one.

We end up being judged by our works. Works that need to be done out of love and faith, to be sure. But the good we do or fail to do, along with the wrong we do, or avoid, and of course this will mean a life of ongoing repentance and confession of sin, this is important as well.

Again, practice makes perfect. One of the most important things we’re to do is learn to be still and know that God is God. Stillness in solitude, stillness in the midst of the storm, stillness in everyday life. Another discipline I practice is to say the Jesus Creed (Mark 12:29-31) and the Lord’s/Our Father prayer (Matthew 6:9-13) over and over throughout the course of a day. I find that this can help center me, helping me keep my focus on God through Christ. Actions in a sense can include thoughts as well as words. We do well to guard our hearts with all diligence, since it is out of the heart that we live, and act.

What we do and don’t do impacts us for good or ill. It is said that we can actually change our brains by our practices. By the Spirit we can be transformed more and more into the image of Christ, or we can resist that and go our own way. If that becomes a pattern of our lives, what we practice, we are on the road to spiritual death.

We do well to watch what we actually are doing, or failing to do. We need to take note of that. Remembering that we in Jesus are in this together. And asking God to reveal to us any hurtful way in us, and lead us in the way everlasting.

vindication

 1 Vindicate me, LORD,
for I have led a blameless life;
I have trusted in the LORD
and have not faltered.

This psalm is about living in the real world. The psalmist certainly would not claim sinless perfection. But in a certain way, or regarding some issue, they lived blamelessly in their limited sense. And the prayer for vindication, or God’s defense and approval of them, that such would be made known to all, seems indeed a legitimate prayer.

The problem with us is that we often want to vindicate ourselves. We want to prove to others that we are in the right, or that a certain character evaluation of us is unfair, or untrue. We do well to leave all of that in God’s hands, and to go our way, seeking to live in God’s good will in Jesus.

In the end it is Jesus who is vindicated, and all who are in him. We end up in this together. There is no competition. But during this difficult time in which our view is often hazy, and in which we know in part, as well as often struggle against sin, we need in God’s grace and working to see God’s hand at work, to see the good from God in each other. The beginning of vindication which is actually even now a gift in God’s grace in Jesus. Our only true vindication is found in him, though there may be gracious provisions of that along the way for humanity. God is a good Judge. And we can entrust ourselves completely to him in and through Jesus.

John Stott on a bigger gospel

It is the comprehensiveness of Paul’s message that is impressive. He proclaimed God in his fullness as Creator, Sustainer, Ruler, Father, and Judge. All this is part of the gospel, or, at least, the necessary prolegomena to the gospel. Many people are rejecting our gospel today, not because they perceive it to be false, but because they perceive it to be trivial. They are looking for an integrated worldview that makes sense of all their experience. We learn from Paul that we cannot preach the gospel of Jesus without the doctrine of God, or the cross without creation, or salvation without judgment, or vice-versa. Today’s world needs a bigger gospel, the full gospel of Scripture, what Paul later in Ephesians was to call “the entire plan of God” (Acts 20:27 NAB).

John Stott  (on Paul’s sermon in Athens, Acts 17)

John Stott, Through the Bible, Through the Year: Daily Reflections from Genesis to Revelation, 334 quoted by Christopher J.H. Wright, The Mission of God’s People: A Biblical Theology of the Church’s Mission (Biblical Theology for Life), 46.

what is just?

Justice is rightfully so, a big subject nowadays. It is called “social justice,” and indeed all justice has to do with society, with people in their relationships with each other.

We Christians, and perhaps in particular, we evangelical Christians seem to have a penchant for wanting to be “right.” Right on paper doesn’t mean that much though, in fact it means nothing if we don’t put into practice what we preach. Both orthodoxy as in right belief, and orthopraxy as in right practice are vital for us as followers of Jesus. But if push comes to shove, I’d much rather be a part of a group that emphasized practice, even if not making enough out of doctrine. We do need both, but I’ll take right practice every time, over supposedly getting everything right, which is not possible.

Micah 6:8 might help us here:

8 He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
And what does the LORD require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God.

We are told that we’re to act justly. And to love mercy. These must be joined: justice and mercy. Of course we see the epitome, indeed the climax of that at the cross of our Lord Jesus. Justice and mercy are joined there. Where mercy is absent, there is indeed no justice. Not the justice that God brings in shalom, and that is fulfilled in the kingdom come in Jesus.

And lastly we’re told that we’re to walk humbly with our God. We need God in the equation for justice. To help us make just and right decisions. And simply because justice is not only with reference to God’s law, will, instruction given. It is from and through God himself. God is Judge and King. In a way that brings salvation, no less. Sorting out what we can never sort out in and of ourselves.

This calling to what is good is fulfilled in Jesus, and begins to be worked out in the lives of all followers of Jesus. It is a justice that is first and foremost about love. And a love that is grounded in truth. About loving God and our neighbor through Jesus. Together, and for the world.