mercy follows judgment

So speak and so act as those who are to be judged by the law of liberty. For judgment will be without mercy to anyone who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment.

James 2:12-13

All of us make judgments about things all the time. Mostly over more or less obvious things, and always subject to our level of understanding and maturity. But judgments are necessary, and especially important together with others who are seriously wrestling to understand what is good and right, even what God’s will is in general and particular matters.

When we read the prophets in the Hebrew Bible (“Old Testament”) we often see God’s judgments, and nearly always followed by God’s mercy. And in the grand narrative of scripture, certainly so.

That suggest an important pattern for us. We need to take seriously what is wrong, what might be evil, to look that in the face and call it what it is. Not that that’s a clearcut easy endeavor. All kinds of things have to be taken in consideration. We could be misunderstanding what is going on, in fact that often is the case as I’ve found out the hard way myself. Then we might be finding out something not so good about ourselves in our propensity to judge others and think the worst of them.

But carefully and prayerfully with mercy, we need to consider something which may be wrong, hopefully with eyes to see, a heart and mind to discern, and the will to be present in love. Some things are obviously wrong. The point here is that there is a place for judgment, that it is necessary. Even if we come to the conclusion in our judgment that we don’t know, or that it’s likely okay.

What always must emerge and prevail after any degree of proper judgment is out and out mercy. Mercy not to sweep the wrong under the rug, but to be present in love to help what is good and just prevail, to see what is wrong made right, to help the one who is in the wrong always remembering that we are often wrong ourselves. To befriend them if possible. Love and wisdom helping them over time with prayers. Mercy must prevail and it will in the end. We’re called to be part of that together as well as in our individual life, in and through Jesus.

are we to be like the father in Jesus’s parable of “the prodigal son”?

Then Jesus said, “There was a man who had two sons. The younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of the wealth that will belong to me.’ So he divided his assets between them. A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and traveled to a distant region, and there he squandered his wealth in dissolute living. When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that region, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that region, who sent him to his fields to feed the pigs. He would gladly have filled his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, and no one gave him anything. But when he came to his senses he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger! I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.” ’ So he set off and went to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him. Then the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his slaves, ‘Quickly, bring out a robe—the best one—and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate, for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!’ And they began to celebrate.

“Now his elder son was in the field, and as he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. He called one of the slaves and asked what was going on. He replied, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf because he has got him back safe and sound.’ Then he became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and began to plead with him. But he answered his father, ‘Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command, yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your assets with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!’ Then the father said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.’ ”

Luke 15:11-32

mercy triumphs over judgment.

James 2:13b

There’s more than one way to look at Jesus’s parable of the prodigal son. Here is a most interesting take, which I think is quite legitimate, one you’ve likely never heard or read. 

What happens when we’re with someone who is acting in a way that is unhelpful, perhaps even harmful and disrespectful? And when it’s a situation in which ethics are ignored or even scorned? How are we to look at this situation and such a person? How are we to act?

To begin with, it probably would be good to begin with ourselves. Or at least I can speak for myself in this. It’s so easy for us to have all but too good short memories. We don’t remember how in our lives we’ve done or been a certain way which was anything but helpful and good. We need to consider ourselves before anyone else.

But we also have to live in the present. What do we do with the situation, with the person? First of all, we’re not going to condone their conduct either explicitly or implicitly. We may not be called, nor should we necessarily rebuke it. Though of course we should be ready to help them if they reach out to us. But chances are that’s not what the situation looks like. They’re likely gladly wallowing in the life and attitudes and action which accompany that.

We should never condone what they’re doing, but we should always look at them with mercy and hope. Prayers and waiting. Being an example ourselves of the better way. And like the father in Jesus’s story, longing for change with love. The father looked and looked, and was more than delighted, completely overjoyed at his son’s return.

We should not look down on others but look for them instead. Yes, as Jesus tells us elsewhere that we’re to be perfect and merciful as his heavenly Father is, we must inculcate in ourselves that same heart and attitude. Showed in our words, often lack of words, attitudes and actions.

Not seeing ourselves as superior but looking at everyone as at least potentially family. That we’re in this life together in love. The love of God in and through Jesus.

awaiting justice and mercy

He has told you, O mortal, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?

Micah 6:8

Advent involves the anticipation of God’s justice at long last coming to earth, but a justice that is full of mercy. As we’re told elsewhere in Scripture:

…mercy triumphs over judgment.

James 2:13b

God in the Person of Christ will return and set things right. And that will be a judgment that is ultimately saving. Yes, to purge the earth of the wicked, of wickedness. To do what only God can do, whatever that is, along with how God will do that. We see this worked out in our lives now. God doesn’t just correct us, sometimes when necessary with loving discipline, which to us can be painful. God also sets us in a new path, one full of justice, righteousness, peace, and joy.

What God has done and is doing in our own lives, we can anticipate God wants to do and will do for all, at Christ’s return and perhaps beyond. Now we get into waters which are over our heads in that there is no completely clear word, though theologians vary in this within Christian orthodoxy (note Gregory of Nyssa).

We wish for all what we have received and are receiving from God. In the meantime we seek to do what is just, loving kindness, as we walk in full humility before God, not imagining for a second that we are in less need of God’s grace and help than anyone else. In and through Jesus.

borderline gossip

Lord, who may abide in your tent?
Who may dwell on your holy hill?

Those who walk blamelessly, and do what is right,
and speak the truth from their heart;
who do not slander with their tongue,
and do no evil to their friends,
nor take up a reproach against their neighbors…

Psalm 15:1-3

I’m sure we’ve all heard it, likely at some time or another even have been participants in it. Concern is being expressed about someone, and before you know it, details are coming out accompanied with a kind of interest that seems to have departed from the original intent. And it goes on and on, not stopping. In what has become “borderline gossip.”

Maybe when we talk about others in such contexts, we would do best to talk about them as if it were ourselves. We want to express the concern, but do so humbly, acknowledging that our perception is limited. That above all, we want to take it to God in prayer. And not go on and on, framing them in a demeaning way. 

There certainly are those times when the person or people we’re concerned about seem to be taking a clearly wrong turn. Of course those are the times we need to plead for God’s mercy upon them.

Let’s be careful what we say about others. Ordinarily keep it brief, to the point, and always with plenty of charity. Looking to God for God’s help and full blessing on their lives. In and through Jesus.

keeping your head low and going on

A Song of Ascents. Of David.

Lord, my heart is not lifted up,
my eyes are not raised too high;
I do not occupy myself with things
too great and too marvelous for me.
But I have calmed and quieted my soul,
like a weaned child with its mother;
my soul is like the weaned child that is with me.

O Israel, hope in the Lord
from this time on and forevermore.

Psalm 131

I would like to delve into the dark, heretical waters of fire and brimstone from an angry God who took out that anger on the Son. All of that heresy. And I appreciate those who work through matters like that. That God is a God of justice and mercy is definitely true, and comes out of the reality of the truth that God is love.

Instead, I need to keep my head down and go on. Praying for myself and others. Seeking to live in God’s will along with others. Calming myself down when need be through the calm that can come only from God by faith through Jesus by the Spirit. And maybe along the way, maybe not, but maybe God will give me a word to help correct falsehood. But above all, that they would see the kindness and deep love of God at work in and even through our lives. In and through Jesus.

no, don’t give up. pray and pray and…

Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart. He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people. In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Grant me justice against my opponent.’ For a while he refused; but later he said to himself, ‘Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.’” And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them. And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”

Luke 18:1-8

I think Jesus wanted to inculcate into his disciples a passion to pray, and at least the bent to practice it regularly. Luke’s gospel account emphasizes prayer more than the other gospels, and we find Jesus praying there more often. As far as what we actually do, I don’t think there’s anything the Lord wants us to do more than to pray.

Prayer is about dependence on God, as well as relationship to God. And it’s about getting the help we desperately need in this world. Interesting that in this parable, Jesus likens the one who prays to the widow pleading for justice in an unjust world. And how she doesn’t give up. The Lord compares that to us needing to cry out to the One who is full of justice and mercy and wants us to ask, and even more, wants to answer.

Yet the Lord makes the sad remark at the end that he is wondering just the same if when he returns there will be any faith on earth. Will people be asking to this more than generous, even eager God?

A good challenge to me and encouragement, when I’m discouraged even to the point when my prayers don’t seem to matter. That’s a lie from the pit. Yes, they do. So we need to keep doing it. Pray and keep on praying and don’t quit doing that.

In and through Jesus.

actions are more important than words

You see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone.

James 2:24

In our Christian culture there seems to be nothing more important than expressed belief, profession of faith, or acknowledgement that at one time or another a person accepted Jesus as their personal Savior. All that is well and good in its place, but if I’m hearing James and his words here correctly, it’s not enough.

A person is justified, declared righteous, made right, considered righteous- whatever the precise meaning, James teaches us, not by a faith which is alone, but a faith which acts.

The gospel is indeed the message by which saving faith is awakened, better- created. And that is a faith apart from works. We believe in Christ, in Christ’s work for us, in the victory of God in him. But that faith inevitably results in good works.

Only God is the judge, but it seems to me that those who act well without understanding the gospel are better off than those who have some understanding of the faith, but whose actions are not in line. Of course none of us are perfectly in line with the truth of the gospel. That will only occur by God’s grace when Christ returns. And there are those who are saved, yet as escaping through the flames, their works not found to be works which come from this faith. We’re getting into a gray, even rather dark area in which we can’t see well, and even if we could, probably is still well beyond our ability to discern. Somehow though, as we read elsewhere, someday God will give us the ability to judge angels.

But back to the point the pastor James is trying to get through to his readers, to us: faith is not really the faith which justifies if no works follow. It is an empty profession, which sadly enough seems to have been all too common in Christendom and even in our churches today. Though again, we all need mercy. God is the judge, one who is full of mercy as well. In and through Jesus.

God meets us where we’re at

Passing along, Jesus saw a man at his work collecting taxes. His name was Matthew. Jesus said, “Come along with me.” Matthew stood up and followed him.

Later when Jesus was eating supper at Matthew’s house with his close followers, a lot of disreputable characters came and joined them. When the Pharisees saw him keeping this kind of company, they had a fit, and lit into Jesus’ followers. “What kind of example is this from your Teacher, acting cozy with crooks and misfits?”

Jesus, overhearing, shot back, “Who needs a doctor: the healthy or the sick? Go figure out what this Scripture means: ‘I’m after mercy, not religion.’ I’m here to invite outsiders, not coddle insiders.”

Matthew 9:9-13; MSG

God wants to meet us all where we’re at. We have to come to God just as we are to be accepted. I think of the great hymn, Just As I Am. We come to him with all of our sin, all of our troubles. We don’t pretend to be something we’re not, as if that will make us acceptable to God. Nor do we try to overcome our troubles by ourselves. Coming to God involves trusting God to answer our prayers, to actually meet us where we are, and to do God’s needed work in us.

Matthew was as low can be in Jewish eyes of his day. Here was one of their own, doing work of the hated Romans, and siphoning extra for himself at their expense, making himself rich in the process. Jesus calls him right at his tax collector’s booth, and then eats with him and others like him. And of course gets called on the carpet for that by the religious leaders. What was missing for these leaders was the point of their religion: God’s mercy. For them, for all. 

I’m thankful I can keep returning to God again and again, not for who I wish I would be, or only when I feel good about life. But when I’m struggling, which honestly is at least a lot of the time, and when troubles are just a fact of life. God meets me there. Meets us all there, if we just come to God as we are. Even calls us, like Jesus did Matthew. In and through Jesus.

the way of peace found in Jesus

The way of peace they do not know;
there is no justice in their paths.

Isaiah 59:8a

And it’s clear enough, isn’t it, that we’re sinners, every one of us, in the same sinking boat with everybody else?

But in our time something new has been added. What Moses and the prophets witnessed to all those years has happened. The God-setting-things-right that we read about has become Jesus-setting-things-right for us. And not only for us, but for everyone who believes in him.

Romans 3:19b,21-22a; MSG

Justice and the peace that comes from that is often the emphasis we hear from younger Christians nowadays. And for many good reasons. For one thing, the gospel often proclaimed and taught in evangelical circles is mostly about our own relationship with God and with others. That is truth, and very needed, and certainly does not exclude teaching about what is just and right, true and good, merciful and bringing peace. But it’s not the entire truth or application of the gospel.

There does need to be an emphasis on justice in society, not just personal righteousness which supposedly brings the needed justice. There is a needed reckoning within the world system to judge and root out, yes, systemic evil. With reference to racial injustice, and many other evils in the world. So this instinct and passion within and active in the younger generations should be welcomed and appreciated.

What we have to be careful of is getting the cart before the horse. Justice in itself is not the point nor the goal, not for the Christian. Jesus and God’s good news of grace and the kingdom come in him is the proper focus. That brings the necessary judgment on evil to be replaced by what is truly the good, flourishing life for humans, for all humanity. 

The emphasis therefore needs to be on Jesus, on God in the human Jesus, the Spirit’s amen and work from that, and the difference that can make, yes, even in this world. In challenging all the injustice, and beginning to see the new world emerge among us. And we shouldn’t fail to mention that it is through nothing short of the blood of Jesus, his death, so that all evil was absorbed into that day on Jesus. So that evil is now dealt with in the truly Christian way through Jesus’s death on the cross. The new life through his resurrection, following.

Not to say that God isn’t at work through some ways in the world which though we would say ultimately is through Jesus and God’s work in him, is not actually linked to that. Indeed that may well be. But the unique way in Jesus in the love for one’s enemies and the way of the cross is at the forefront of what God’s justice looks like. It is tempered with mercy, and brings in the needed full salvation beginning even now. In our lives, but breaking into earthly principalities and powers, high places where this is not only known, but opposed. Even though that’s ongoing on this side of time. Not for the faint of heart, but part of our calling. In and through Jesus.

renewing one’s commitment to prayer

My God, whom I praise,
do not remain silent,
for people who are wicked and deceitful
have opened their mouths against me;
they have spoken against me with lying tongues.
With words of hatred they surround me;
they attack me without cause.
In return for my friendship they accuse me,
but I am a man of prayer.
They repay me evil for good,
and hatred for my friendship.

Psalm 109:1-5

Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful.

Colossians 4:2

I have to admit that today I’m discouraged. Partly over circumstances in which there is no needed breakthrough. But just as much if not more over my own failure to remain in prayer the way I ought to, according to the sense I have of calling, faint though it may be, but persistent and clear enough, to simply be in prayer.

David was referring to adversity from others. But he remained in prayer. The inspired utterances which follow, quoted in the New Testament are completely understandable given what he was up against, though some of it is not worthy of a follower of Christ. At the same time God doesn’t tell us to deny our true feelings and thoughts, but to indeed air them out to God, a part of prayer. The rest of David’s prayer (click Psalm 109 link) is interesting. If you consider the rest of Scripture, you can see that God would bring judgment against the evildoers with the desire to bring them mercy in the end, I think the prevailing current we find in the First/Old Testament prophets and elsewhere.

Paul’s word is for Christ followers, for the church, that we’re to be devoted to prayer. I find it too easy to drift away from that. When by God’s grace I’m able to remain in prayer, it’s a gift, really something I find not only enjoyable, but helpful. But such devotion is expressed regardless of how one feels, or what they’re up against. Yes, at times it can wonderfully seem to be a part of us, but at many other times, it’s simply something we do, a practice. But I would like to add it’s like something we enter into so that we become a part of that prayer, and that prayer becomes a part of us. Now I’m going way beyond what I can understand, but the idea is that we’re taken up into the grace and working of God. And that prayer is not just something we practice, but a part of who we are becoming.

We just need to pray, practice that, and enter into this reality. And as Paul tells us elsewhere, remain there.

pray all the time

1 Thessalonians 5:17; MSG

In and through Jesus.