Pursue peace with everyone and the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.

Hebrews 12:14; NRSVue

Holiness has to do with being set apart, other, distinct and different in ways that matter. Some of that will make sense in the world, but some of it will not. God is by definition or description in part, Other. God’s holiness in part is understood that way. And yet somehow we’re to share in that holiness.

So often in the churches holiness is taught to be about moral purity, and especially as it relates to the sexual side. And with that comes all kinds of baggage: from the problems of the purity culture to unchecked scandals in leadership and families. And of course often with an emphasis on the culture war, now turned against transgenders. This is completely misguided. It is interesting that strangely enough, you’ll find queers who are as concerned if not more so about holiness than most straights who often seem to give little thought to it. It is after all, a bit out of fashion.

But we’re told in this passage that without holiness, no one will see the Lord. I take that to mean that it is indeed a prerequisite, required to know and be in fellowship with God. And the difference holiness makes is all the difference. It’s not so much about moral purity, though understood rightly that’s certainly included. At its heart is a love which is just and kind and trusts that there’s always the good to do, the good to become.

If we’re holy, then like God we’ll be different. It’s an “in Christ” difference. But that difference will be about what ultimately unites all humanity: the reality and life of God. And that for all of life. Something we’re called to pursue, and which God will help us find and more and more settle into.

God’s abundant pardon

Seek the LORD while he may be found;
call upon him while he is near;
let the wicked forsake their way
and the unrighteous their thoughts;
let them return to the LORD, that he may have mercy on them,
and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.
For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
nor are your ways my ways, says the LORD.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.

Isaiah 55:6-9; NRSVue

Whenever we read or hear Scripture, we should be in prayer and ready to receive the word, whatever God might be saying through it. We need to be open every single time we read or hear Scripture read. To think that somehow we’re exempt or it doesn’t apply to us is thoughtless at best and dangerous at worst. Yes a passage might not seem to have direct application to us, after all, as in the passage above, in Christ we’re not of the wicked. But to recall that for us along the way in our lives that passage has indeed been applicable is important, too. And God might just have something to teach us, even if it’s only a fresh awareness of what we thought we already knew.

In the passage above from Isaiah, we read of God’s abundant pardon. That God wants to forgive and restore. Yes, we’re thankful that this is true for ourselves, and is possible for all others, for everyone, yes “the wicked…and the unrighteous.” If only they forsake their way and thoughts. Seeking and calling upon God, returning to God. For God’s mercy and not just pardon, but abundant pardon.

We limit God and everything else. But we’ll find that there’s no limit to God’s mercy and pardon. God is for everyone in the human race. If only each of us will forsake our own thoughts and ways, and be open to God’s thoughts and ways. Indeed vastly higher and beyond our own. But taking us in, including each and everyone of us in the way of love ultimately found in Jesus.

no interest in any god who doesn’t intimately care about every person who has ever lived

The LORD is good to all,
and his compassion is over all that he has made.

Psalm 145:9

Almighty and everlasting God, you hate nothing you have made and forgive the sins of all who are penitent: Create and make in us new and contrite hearts, that we, worthily lamenting our sins and acknowledging our wretchedness, may obtain of you, the God of all mercy, perfect remission and forgiveness; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.

Book of Common Prayer

Call it a protest against bad theology, or whatever, but I have no interest whatsoever in any god who doesn’t have an intimate concern for every human being who has ever lived or ever will live. I have to add to that animals, as well. I cringe when we watch Nature or something of the sort, noting the precarious nature of life, even the given of carnivorous existence to survive. Thankfully I realize that it’s really all beyond me. My own hope is that animals such as cats and dog, and I’ll add horses for my wife will be resurrected to experience the love in any new creation life to come.

But given the devastation that is all too common in the world today, and really has been throughout the earth’s existence, I have a hard time just saying that in the end it doesn’t matter, that there’s no love that continues, that once we’re born we die and that’s the end. Even worse, actually far worse for me is the idea that is commonly considered truth, even if hushed, that the vast majority of human beings will be damned to eternal suffering in hell fire forever and ever. Count me out. Any god that is even distantly related to that, or as is said, actually allows that, some saying even causes that, I think is worse than the devil, and I want nothing at all to do with that god. Period.

But thankfully God is Jesus, and in Jesus we see something quite different. And I would argue that over the scope of the entire Bible we end up with something quite different. God does intimately care for all, even for those who are not likeable. God is God, so much larger than us, completely whole in every way. God is love through and through and everything else that is good through and through. Yes God hates evil, and does get angry. We see that in Jesus when he made a whip and drove the money changers with their animals out of the temple. God is ticked off too, and evildoers will thoroughly be held accountable. But judgment is ultimately not retributive but restorative. Again I think when we turn the pages of Scripture we’ll find somewhat so again and again, and especially through the entire reading that God deals in what ultimately amounts to persistent love with each and everyone. I like the saying that if anyone remains in hell, Jesus is close to them.

That’s the God I see in Scripture and in Jesus. I have no interest whatsoever in the least with any other god.

another earthquake to kill 20,000 more people (and counting), and don’t forget the war, etc.

There was once a man in the land of Uz whose name was Job.

Job 1:1a

I would like to camp in the book of Job for like a year. Actually if I could become quite a number of people at the same time, I would choose to stay put in various places in Scripture, including the Apocrypha, and just take it in and remain there. Other places too, like in nature. Listening to music, I’ve begun to see the value of just playing the same album day after day, say of piano pieces of Brahms or whatever, instead of just listening to it, and going on to the next.

Job is a wisdom story. There’s no way in my view that it actually happened. It certainly puts God in a disastrous light at the beginning. But it teaches us wisdom. An  important part of that is just the sheer and complete utter unhelpful conventional “orthodox” ways of helping Job dished out to him by his friends. Job couldn’t stomach any of it, not helpful in the least, but quite the contrary, off the mark.

But God finally answers, initially rebukes Job, and then goes on to talk about creation, and if we really can’t fathom its depths, just how can we fathom the depths of the person who created it all. In the end Job is left speechless. It ends up being quite beyond us.

While I believe there are good answers from a God that is good and that all will be good in the end, and yes, I really do believe that, nevertheless there are many many things in this life which can shake us to the core and leave us not only empty, but deeply unsatisfied.

Yes, the book of Job is good, so much depth. Just like all of Scripture we do well to remain there for a time. We should consider it well and camp there, but ultimately we turn to Jesus, God’s revelation in him, Jesus the Word of God. If God became human and died for all to bring life in the love of God, then God will see to it that each and everyone of humankind is taken care of.

But even so, that does not answer the loss of children and others (even cats and dogs, I’ll add horses for my wife, etc.) in tragedies and illnesses. We do well to, unlike Job’s friends, keep our mouths tightly shut while being present, and in the end along with Job not think we have the answer needed.

In the meantime we want to do all we can, somehow enter into the suffering of all through prayers and good works such as sending support to those in need. And while we marvel at the good we find now, we look forward to the Day when once and for all and forever, the great healing will come, and all will be well.

does God really make a difference?

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:6-7

Oftentimes the religious or what many of us would call faith experience is chalked up to mere psychology. It’s thought that in the evolutionary process somehow humankind came up with the idea of a superior being or beings and the Supreme Being which helped them cope in what ends up being nothing more than a material world. That their idea of spiritual was fanciful but helpful in some ways, but ending up being quite harmful in many other way, indicative in all the violence and destruction perpetuated in the name of religion, yes, even in the name of Christ.

I have no doubt that somehow in the evolutionary process something like this may indeed have happened. This seems pretty evident, or at least a strong possibility from what we can piece together from archaeology and probably other disciplines as well. But what if something beyond psychology is involved in this?

When I do what is told to do from the above passage in Philippians, is the peace that comes merely some psychological reaction from the myth of a God who makes a difference? Maybe, but based on fairly long experience now, I doubt it. And this doubt is not based only on experience but also on the tradition of Scripture given to us, and the witness of many. Admittedly it is based on faith and mysticism, but I find it as real as anything else in life, and somehow both transcendent while fully immanent in the sense of being present in down to earth, helpful ways, or at least that ought to be a part of the thought.

Why is it considered amazing that there’s more to everything than just nature? Even if science could get to what preceded the Big Bang, and I don’t doubt that it might, that in no way addresses the question of God. That is forever outside of science’s realm, even as any scientist would have to admit. Although what continues to unfold makes what science is observing more and more astounding, and less and less explainable, which might be taken as a clue.

All that said, in reality faith won’t be helped by that, but only by Christ, looking to Christ. I do agree with C.S. Lewis that when people in sincerity live in the light they have, that God honors that. But even though they may not know it, it is always and forever through Christ, who is the way to the Father. That is why if I were serving in hospice or in a chaplaincy and helping people near death, I would not try to get them converted to my faith. I certainly would pray for them, and be ready to pray with them. I would want to be fully present with them, and in so doing trust that Christ’s presence is with us.

But back to the question of this post. What difference does God really make? I believe without a shadow of a doubt, all the difference in the world. Yes, all the difference. We’re talking about night and day, light and darkness, from the edge leaning toward the abyss to the full light of day. Something like all of that. And what difference does God make? What we read in Scripture from cover to cover, and especially about Christ points us to what difference is intended. The God who made this astounding, wonderful, precarious world can and promises to remake, make all things new. That is the hope as in promise that we can begin to experience fully even as our experience is what it is, yes- in this life.

God does make the difference needed, but something we have to try to apply to all the broken places in this world. Opposed to all even in any religion that is opposed to the way of Christ. With the conviction that whatever good God does even through us now is somehow more than just a sign for the good world to come in Christ.

“It’s not just that Jesus is God. God is Jesus.”

Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the worlds. He is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being, and he sustains all things by his powerful word. When he had made purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.

Hebrews 1:1-4

Forgive me for borrowing this from someone else who shared this in the recent past on social media, though it’s nothing new, but something we may not think much about. Yes, we take it from the witness of Scripture that indeed, Jesus while fully human is fully God. Just as mysterious as the thought of the Trinity itself, though in our modernistic mindset we somehow think we can explain everything, plumb the depths even of God. Though the world now understands that while we’re blessed with an emphasis on reason and modernity, that simply is not the case. But many Christians have yet to receive or understand that.

But to the point of this post: God is Jesus. While Jesus as portrayed in the gospels might not seem entirely right in our times, that too could be a misreading of some of the stories he told, completely fitting in that day, and not really putting God into the same light as some of the characters which have been misinterpreted as corresponding directly to God. What we clearly do see in Jesus is quite a contrast to even the best of what we find in the Hebrew Bible / Old Testament, while not at all denigrating the seriousness of the faith of those preceding him. Remember, Jesus said that John the Baptizer was greater than all who had preceded him, but that everyone in the kingdom of heaven were somehow greater than John. That must have to do with the superiority, or in the words of Hebrews “better” covenant, kingdom and King now present.

If you want to understand who God is, then you have to look at Jesus. Study Jesus, especially in the gospel accounts: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, and don’t stop studying him there. And then go on to what follows and consider Jesus in all of that. And begin to grapple with and understand all the rest of Scripture in that light, so that you see where God’s people surely fell short in their understanding of God. Yes, God gets God’s hand dirty by not only taking us seriously where we’re at, but working with us there; full, utter grace. But God won’t stop there until we see God for who God really is. And that can only be seen through Jesus’s life, acts, teachings, death, resurrection and ascension with the promise of his return. We see God as God truly is only in the face of Jesus Christ.

don’t be meager in your faith

Now when Elisha had fallen sick with the illness of which he was to die, King Joash of Israel went down to him and wept before him, crying, “My father, my father! The chariots of Israel and its horsemen!” Elisha said to him, “Take a bow and arrows,” so he took a bow and arrows. Then he said to the king of Israel, “Draw the bow,” and he drew it. Elisha laid his hands on the king’s hands. Then he said, “Open the window eastward,” and he opened it. Elisha said, “Shoot,” and he shot. Then he said, “The LORD’s arrow of victory, the arrow of victory over Aram! For you shall fight the Arameans in Aphek until you have made an end of them.” He continued, “Take the arrows,” and he took them. He said to the king of Israel, “Strike the ground with them”; he struck three times and stopped. Then the man of God was angry with him and said, “You should have struck five or six times; then you would have struck down Aram until you had made an end of it, but now you will strike down Aram only three times.”

So Elisha died, and they buried him. Now bands of Moabites used to invade the land in the spring of the year. As a man was being buried, a marauding band was seen and the man was thrown into the grave of Elisha; as soon as the man touched the bones of Elisha, he came to life and stood on his feet.

2 Kings 13:14-21

These are the kind of Scripture passages that I must confess I don’t really like to write on, teach or preach, whatever. I would like to ignore them, since there’s something in it which I don’t believe is Jesus-like at all, but actually antithetical to Jesus. That being said, as we’re told elsewhere about Scripture, we can and therefore should gain something good out of each passage or at least Scripture as a whole, even if sometimes it has in it more like an example of what we should not think or do.

In this case, with the great prophet Elisha, we find a weak king, Joash, who did not end well. I find something worthwhile to remember from this passage. Simply the idea that we ought to have a faith which doesn’t shrink and is vigorous in taking hold of what God has promised, as well as hope in God, and moving forward. That can be mistaken for the idea that with a little help from God we can do it on our own. And nothing could be more mistaken. That’s not the point.

What we need is a vigorous faith in God. That helps us do what we need to do and ought to do. We strike the ground over and over through our prayers, through being present, and doing what we sense God is calling us to do. Doing our best to do that. But with all the faith only and forever in God, not in ourselves. But through that becoming enabled to do whatever it is that God has called us to do. Not shrugging my shoulders and slacking off which I’m often tempted to do, and to some extent too often do. Not what God calls us to, as we learn in part from this passage in Scripture.

God is bigger than that

…the fullness of [Christ] who fills all in all.

Ephesians 1:23b

When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to the one who put all things in subjection under him, so that God may be all in all.

1 Corinthians 15:28

God is often quite confined in our thinking. I mean if there is a god, if there’s God, then wouldn’t that be larger than all the world, more than anything we could ever think of? Probably all that is universally received as the best, like goodness, love, happiness as in blessedness or well being, and a whole host of other things that together we could think of, are not only exemplified in God, but absolutely perfected in God in a way that makes God indeed, Other.

Surely much of Christian theology which in large part is the consideration of God, might in and of itself unwittingly and surely inevitably limit God in ways that Scripture and life do not. That is something, just as anything about God actually, which is well above our pay grade. We can only try to catch a glimpse, and stammer whatever our reaction might be, probably being more distrustful of what seems so coherent except for basics like God is love, and God is good.

If something of what has been said about God as I tried to say above reflects the least bit of reality, then it’s surely more than reasonable to say that God is bigger than so much that we make so big here on earth. Let’s start with our differences, whatever they may be. Political and religious, the two forbidden areas of conversation, at least in part of my culture. And whatever other differences there are. God is bigger than that, than all of it.

We tend to confine God and God’s working to just certain entities and people. Yes, we do well to turn to Scripture where we find that Christ’s presence in the church is a key if not the central part of what is happening now. But take some of the rest of that writing and Scripture as a whole, along with all of life, and we surely will begin to surmise that God is bigger than our differences. That God is at work in ways that we can’t understand beforehand, and barely begin to comprehend afterwards.

Let this be a rebuke to all of us whenever we think we have anything figured out, and settled. I believe that Christ is the center of all things, and that God is preeminently present in him and through him to all the world, and that this manifestation comes especially through the church directly and indirectly, but possibly (I would say, likely) not confined to that. This should help us beyond all that divides us, to what is the most basic of all. Even while we try to understand what all of that might mean for life on the ground here and now.

what does the Incarnation mean for us as Christ-followers?

And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.

John 1:14

The Christian teaching, the Incarnation is simply the idea that God became flesh, fully human in Christ. God never ceased to be God, yet also became human. Mystery.

But on the ground here on planet earth where that occurred, what does that mean for Christ-followers and for that matter, for everyone. It surely ends up meaning a number of things a mile wide and a mile deep.

God comes to live right where we live. And not only that, but God becomes one of us. One of us. In other words we humans are already in identification with God through the Incarnation.

And so we can know that God feels our pain in a human way, since God has become human in Christ. God understands our limitations and mistakes along with all the rest since God limited God’s self in the Incarnation while yet somehow remaining God.

Among the many things the Incarnation means, it surely includes at its heart that it’s about us living fully present and engaged in life on earth. Seeking to find and do all of God’s will as best we can understand it, individually and especially together as the church. And that plays out in the gospel accounts. Jesus didn’t set up a monastery and isolate his followers. No, he fully engaged in the present, proclaiming in word, deed and life the good news, the gospel of God’s good rule.

We the church are now Christ’s body on earth. To live out the same life he did in thoughtful, reflective and healing ways. All because of the Incarnation itself.

be still and know

To the leader. Of the Korahites. According to Alamoth. A Song.

God is our refuge and strength,
a very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change,
though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam,
though the mountains tremble with its tumult. Selah

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy habitation of the Most High.
God is in the midst of the city; it shall not be moved;
God will help it when the morning dawns.
The nations are in an uproar; the kingdoms totter;
he utters his voice; the earth melts.
The LORD of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our refuge. Selah

Come, behold the works of the LORD;
see what desolations he has brought on the earth.
He makes wars cease to the end of the earth;
he breaks the bow and shatters the spear;
he burns the shields with fire.
Be still, and know that I am God!
I am exalted among the nations;
I am exalted in the earth.”
The LORD of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our refuge. Selah

Psalm 46

I think one of the most important things any of us can hear is the words, “Slow down.” “Pause.” maybe even “Stop!” It’s not like what we do doesn’t matter, including some of the hustle and bustle we get caught up in. Sometimes at least that seems to be necessary. And then there are more than enough things to chew one’s fingernails over. You name it, quite a long list of domestic and global concerns, not to mention all the things immediately before us which can carry us away in overmuch care and concern.

We need to hear again and again with God’s people of old the words of the psalmist here:

Be still, and know that I am God!

God will have God’s way and nothing will get in the way of that. And in faith ultimately together with the world as we see in this psalm, we will indeed be included in that.

So take a deep breath and more of them. And just settle into the stillness.