God’s grace received where we’re at

It’s more complicated than that: right? Yes it is. One has to get serious about sins in one’s life which actually violate love for God and for human beings, as well as respect for God’s creation. And yet scripture makes it clear that in and of ourselves, we can’t fix the problem. And yet we’re called to be grieved over it, but not just because of it’s destructive effect on others, as well as on ourselves, but bottom line, because it’s against our Creator.

Sometimes I have been nailed down in defeat, perhaps in part due to a condemning finger pointing at me from the enemy in an actually confusing, unclear way, but strong and relentless, just the same. Or perhaps there is a sense in which I’m undergoing God’s disciplining love over attitudes that I know aren’t right, but seem to have me in their grip, sin seeming to be a power over me at the time, which won’t let go.

It is good, even important to pray to God during such times, to grieve, mourn and wail, as James puts it, as we seek to cleanse our hands (acts) and purify our hearts (attitudes). Even to confess our faults to one another, and pray for each other, so that we might be healed (James 5).

In the end it’s only God’s grace which will prevail in our lives, and make the difference needed. God certainly accepts us where we’re at, but just as certainly, God won’t leave us there. And we have to leave the convicting work of the Spirit in God’s hands, as well as the final judgment of everything. Paul refused to even judge himself, much less someone else. That’s not at all talking about dealing with sin along the way, but probably referring to the final judgment to come, when God will make known all our hidden motives. But along with that thankfully is God’s grace in Christ, so that God does indeed convict and convince us of our sin, so we can confess such sin to God, and receive God’s forgiveness and cleansing. And go on, not at all competent or confident in ourselves, but trusting in God, and God’s promise to us to always meet us where we’re at as we seek to come near to him, in and through Jesus.

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God’s faithfulness no matter what

Habakkuk has always been an interesting book to me, some memorable lines, but most of all just the entire letter. The sky was falling, things really bad, especially with what was right in their face: injustice and unfaithfulness on the home front, and what seemed even worse looming on the horizon from an empire on the move, the Babylonians.

I guess it depends somewhat on one’s perspective, but it seem like the sky is falling to many. It’s certainly not an easy time for a good number of people. There are not only concerns, but surely much that needs to be done. And in a certain sense that seems ongoing in this life. All one has to do is open up a good, substantive history book, and one can see that troubles await on every turn, that there’s little that seems to turn out entirely right, that with the good, there’s always the not so good, and sometimes even evil.

And this is not to slap those on the wrist who are activists, and tell them to simmer down, that everything will somehow be okay in the end. There certainly is a time to speak out, as well as to be silent. This is not at all to challenge someone who might be an important player in what’s going on.

But it’s simply to say that God is faithful no matter what. That God is at work in the world: our world, the world around us, and the world at large. And like with the prophet Habakkuk, in ways that we can’t imagine or conceive. Not that everything is good in the end. And not that we don’t bear some responsibility, either. But God is at work to judge and bring salvation.

Habakkuk couldn’t see that, nor would he have if God would have shown him. It evidently would have made no sense to him; he would not have been able to track with it. I think oftentimes that’s a major part of my problem. I want to somehow see the light somewhere, which is certainly at the end of the tunnel. But I can’t. And I can’t begin to see the larger picture like God does. Perhaps what I need to envision in my mind is an empty canvas, with God being the one who is painting, perhaps over coloring which seems dark and meaningless, perhaps even chaotic. And God might use our hand a bit in the painting, most likely so if we’re open to that.

God is at work in the world. It’s important for us to trust God no matter what, and to remain in faith in God’s covenant faithfulness in Jesus. And to worship. Just as Habakkuk did in his day, the letter bearing his name preserved for us to be translated into our day. In and through Jesus.

judging and favoring others versus showing mercy

My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favoritism. Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in filthy old clothes also comes in. If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, “Here’s a good seat for you,” but say to the poor man, “You stand there” or “Sit on the floor by my feet,” have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?

Listen, my dear brothers and sisters: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who are exploiting you? Are they not the ones who are dragging you into court? Are they not the ones who are blaspheming the noble name of him to whom you belong?

If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing right. But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers. For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it. For he who said, “You shall not commit adultery,” also said, “You shall not murder.” If you do not commit adultery but do commit murder, you have become a lawbreaker.

Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment.

James 2:1-13

James makes it clear that favoritism of any kind is never acceptable. As Christians we should go out of our way to include those who would be marginalized for whatever reason in our group. And that means everyone. Certainly it’s not suggesting that everyone can be considered Christian, or members of our church. But it’s fully accepting and welcoming everyone’s presence.

And we are not to give special favors to those who we think might be a blessing to us, for example the wealthy, who might give generous sums of money. Or think somehow that they’re a cut above the rest. We’re not to think and act as the world does, but as “believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ,” as those who follow Jesus.

Loving our neighbor as ourselves is the criteria here, informed by specific commands such as not committing adultery, and not murdering, called “the royal law found in Scripture.” So that we are to be true both to the letter, there are absolutes, and to the heart which is love. In the end, we are all judged by the law that gives freedom. That freedom comes in the form of mercy. We ourselves are in need of it, and we’re to show that same mercy to others. Which through Jesus always triumphs over judgment. In other words it’s freely offered to all who repent and believe. Freely received and freely given in and through Jesus.

life is fleeting

Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast in your arrogant schemes. All such boasting is evil. If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them.

James 4:13-17

Often life doesn’t seem fleeting. Especially when we’re young. We’re waiting for this or that, or planning ahead, whatever it might be. But that’s only an illusion. Life is fleeting; it is passing, soon to be gone forever.

Tragically for some it can go in a moment of time. Really for any of us. Recently for a young woman, not long married, with a four year old daughter in a car accident. None of us know what a day may bring forth. Not just a trite saying, but truth.

There are those who just say party up, knowing that it will all end soon:

“Let us eat and drink,
    for tomorrow we die.”

1 Corinthians 15:32; Isaiah 22:13

The point for us all is both that we should take note just how quickly all of this may and ultimately will be gone, and live in the light of that. Both. It is easy either to live as if only this moment or time matters, or to simply carelessly, either not taking the brevity of life into account, or else live as if it won’t end. It is amazing how we can so easily live in denial of this, or just throw in the towel, and think that nothing matters.

Ecclesiastes likens life to a breath. How it goes about as fast as it comes. With the conclusion that we’re to fear God and keep his commandments, knowing that every act of ours will be brought into judgment.

Today will end soon. It’s more important that we live it well, in God’s will in Jesus, then that it goes like we would like it to go. How can we live in a way that’s pleasing to God and helpful to ourselves and others? That’s the question we must ask. As we prayerfully seek to live according to God’s good will in his grace to us in and through Jesus.

making sense of nonsense

As humans, we are rational beings. We want to understand as much as we can, and try to make some sense of things. Necessarily, we factor in reason, as well as our experience, and at best, together. And if we’re wise, we surely will consider how generations past have grappled with life: their thoughts and practices, in a word, their tradition.

In some sense this is a never ending process, open to refinement, or just to the application necessary to the times in which we live. In another sense, for people of faith, there are certain matters that are fixed. The basis for that is both scripture and tradition. The church of the Great Tradition: Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and the like, will put both on an equal par, actually on the basis of scripture. Other churches such as those within Protestantism, will see scripture as the authority, but if they’re wise, I think, will understand that scripture does give some serious weight to tradition, particularly how the church has interpreted the point of scripture, the gospel, over the centuries. So that even within differences of understanding that, essentially the heart of the gospel is the same, found in Jesus, and in his death and resurrection, and all that’s related to that.

What can become a crisis of faith is experience along with thoughts which seem to give the lie to God. And specifically the great, good God of the Bible. But if we read all of the Bible, we’ll find that it mirrors life: the good, the bad, the beautiful, and the ugly. We are often left with no answer to our question, “Why?” both in terms of life, and sometimes within the pages of scripture itself. Although there are explanations, some of them tied to the idea that the secret things belong to God, left to God’s understanding, while the things revealed belong to God’s people, to hold on to for life, what is called truth (Deuteronomy). So that in the end we have to trust God.

The answer for us in the here and now is simply to learn to live in the never ending tension of life, both what makes sense, and what from our perspective is sheer nonsense, and maybe the case from God’s perspective, as well. Though God is at work to bring good out of it all, even what forever will be evil.

In the main point of scripture, the gospel, God used the greatest evil to bring about the greatest good at the cross, in the death of Christ. We hold on to that, both in terms of understanding God and life. There is something which ultimately will override all the nonsense of this world. And sense will take care of it all in the end in God’s good judgment and justice to come, and the salvation which follows.

In the meantime, I continue to hold to this, the idea that what makes sense will prevail, only through faith. Certainly the resurrection of Jesus as given to us in the gospel accounts, being a major factor for acceptance of the faith. But also a faith which amounts to a trust in God, even when it seems that the bottom has fallen out in our experience, or maybe even thought, so that there’s nothing left to stand on.

God is underneath, and around all of that. And the truth of the gospel, the good news in Jesus is the hope and even assurance we have that all will be well in the end.

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.

remaining faithful (and seeing the big picture)

“See, the enemy is puffed up;
    his desires are not upright—
    but the righteous person will live by his faithfulness[g]

Habakkuk 2:4

Sometimes it feels like nothing is left so to speak, that at least everything is in shambles. And life itself does not make sense. If you read the three chapters of Habakkuk (you can through the link above), you’ll find that precisely to be the setting for the prophet Habakkuk’s complaint to God. Injustice was rife among God’s people, which made no sense, since God wasn’t doing anything about it. And then God’s solution in response to Habakkuk’s request as to what God would in time do made no sense to Habakkuk, either. God bringing on a nation, an empire of that day, which acted even worse than God’s people, and was less righteous in Habakkuk’s eyes.

What are we to do in such circumstances? God’s answer to us is that the righteous will live by faith, or more precisely by their faithfulness. Actually without faith, it’s impossible to be faithful. Both faith and faithfulness are tied to commitment in response to God’s word, promise, and command. We can say, covenantal in nature. Of course one has to believe God’s word. But within that belief has to be a trust which is a commital of one’s entire life to God. So that all depends on God, but we are in it for the long haul, through thick and thin. A covenant is a binding agreement between two parties.

For Habakkuk in a way that seemed easier since he was part of the covenantal people, Israel. But simply to be part of that nation did not mean at all that individuals lived up to that covenant obligation. So even then the call to the individual within community was in play. Today there is the challenge among many evangelicals to see God’s covenant in terms of a people, the church. We often don’t put sufficient emphasis on church, but see it more as a good help to our faith. But church is indeed a part of our faith in that the covenant we have before God in Christ is both individual and communal. That covenant is broken if we consider it nothing but individual, “between me and God.” We’re in this together. In New Testament terms, we are indeed one body, so that while each part has its place, and is important before God, we are important for all the others, as well. It’s never only about us and God. It’s about us and God and others in Christ.

So the call to faith and faithfulness is both in response to God’s word, God’s promise to us in Christ, and together with others in Christ, and not just for the sake of each other, but in our witness of the gospel before and for the world. We remain faithful when life around us makes no sense and seems to be falling apart. But we trust God in all of that, and are committed to the good news of the gospel which is breaking in through God’s saving work now. God’s judgment at work in the world now, too, as needed. But an emphasis on God’s salvation, “today” being that time.

We all have part in this, so that we live now with that in mind. Through our faith and faithfulness. By God’s grace, God’s gift and giving in Christ. Assured that God is at work now and to the end, in and through Jesus.