doing the best imperfect we can

Let your work be manifest to your servants
and your glorious power to their children.
Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us
and prosper for us the work of our hands—
O prosper the work of our hands!

Psalm 90:16-17

I’d like to know one single thing that humans ever did perfectly. That probably depends on what you mean by perfect, and what measure is put forward to determine that. For example, humankind has flown into space, even landed on the moon. The technology to engineer and perform such feats had to take a measure of perfection. Maybe there’s some margin of error in the mix, but if it’s outside of the parameters set, disaster could be the result, or hopefully instead a scrubbed launch or whatever.

When it comes to ethics, we humans usually if not always have something of mixed motives. Maybe not all the impurities are actually sinful, like for example we may feel clumsy among others, and fear being looked down on, or something to that effect. I think we can have the right heart in doing something, out of love, and I’m a bit suspicious that any sin, latent or otherwise has to be in the mix with that.

Regardless of how we parse that, I am encouraged by the thought to just keep doing the best imperfect that I can, and together with others to do the best imperfect we can. Yes, we’re going to make mistakes, and we’ll find out down the road a way that we could have done something better. But I don’t think we humans are called to make sure we do everything perfectly. What does that mean, anyhow? How can we really know? And most importantly, is there anything that is perfect in this existence in some sort of final, permanent sense? I don’t think so.

So we happily press on, just trying to use the best judgment and make the best decisions possible with the limited resources and time we have here. But believing in all of that, that God is able to take our inevitably imperfect thoughts and acts done in love into the perfection of God’s working, both for the present and for the time to come.

did “love (really) come down at Christmas,” or judgment?

“No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.

“Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world but in order that the world might be saved through him.”

John 3:13-17

Reading through the version of “Love Came Down at Christmas” (Christian Rossetti) from our hymnal this morning made me again think about our witness and what is at the heart of the Christmas story.

Often in my lifetime and it seems all the more so in the present day, what I hear from Christians where I live is mostly the note of judgment, how God is going to have to judge America. As if America even from the beginning has had little or no, or at least comparatively less gaffes and issues. Pure fiction. And the fact that such in the past much of the time had a Christian cultural veneer surely makes that all the more egregious. God’s judgment fell. “The good ‘ole days” exist only to those who did not live during those times. But over and over and over again I hear judgment, judgment and more judgment.

But what happened at “Christmas” when Jesus was born? According to Jesus’s words to Nicodemus, not judgment. No, not judgment, but love. Love. Of course you can read on (click above link) and think that judgment does get in because people don’t believe in the Son and because their deeds are evil. Right. And we know why. Because Love is rejected, people are left to their own devices which is judgment in itself.

If love ruled the day for Christians, we wouldn’t see the culture wars going on, waged mainly by Christians. Instead we would see Christians going out of their way to find solutions to problems and doing so humbly within a pluralistic society in which people inevitably disagree. Real love gets down and dirty right into the world in which people live. And not only witnesses, but begins to feel with those who are victimized and hurt, with the full human experience itself. Unless the Christmas story isn’t true.

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.

a time to speak up and a time to shut up

A right time to shut up and another to speak up

Ecclesiastes 3:7b; MSG

For me Jeremiah has been an interesting prophet since I imagine I share something of an emotional affinity with him. He is called the weeping prophet, and may well have written the book of Lamentations.

Jeremiah didn’t care about sharing his opinions. He was captive only to the word of God, to the message God gave him to speak. He found it nourishing to him, but he also found large parts of it to be more than troubling. And he got to live out not just the blessed parts, but at least something of the results of the cursed parts, for example commanded not to marry since bad times were coming.

I don’t see in Jeremiah a person who wanted to win arguments. But I do see one who again and again was willing to speak out an unpopular message from God to God’s people, even though it tore Jeremiah up.

Surely there’s much we can learn from Jeremiah for us today. There are times that to remain silent is surely wrong. We need to speak up, hopefully with needed wisdom and humility, and with forthrightness and clarity. But then there’s times to simply shut up, be quiet, let it go. I can see that in Jeremiah when after the false prophets contradicted him, saying all would be peace, Jeremiah told them, may it be so. He soon received another word from God which again contradicted the false prophets, flatly contradicting their word.

For Jeremiah it was definitely not an ego trip. It was only with great cost that he spoke. Since his passion and commitment was to speak only God’s message, he wasn’t interested in sharing his own thoughts, except when he was simply dealing with the human element of his dilemma.

Few of us will be called to speak out like Jeremiah, and some of us may not be called to speak at all, but rather act in things God gives us to do. Nothing greater than praying, of course. But in good works showing love to our enemies, what God puts on our hearts to do.

If we do speak out, it should be as those speaking God’s word, God’s message. Or our considered, measured, hopefully mature human judgment, making it clear that this is our opinion, perhaps even conviction, but with humility.

In today’s noisy din of dissenting voices, to hear God’s voice and see God’s wisdom break through would be our hope. Ultimately that will happen. We should seek to be in that flow, willing to shut up, but also to speak up when need be. Hoping and praying that God is getting through to us, as well as to others.

beyond fear

God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.

1 John 4:16b-18

I remember years, now decades ago when I think the Dean of Men where I went to school opened his Bible as we sat in his office, turning to this passage. And with an emphasis on perfect love casting out fear, and spoke some on that. I can remember his tone of voice, and etched concern on his face, even if I can’t remember much if anything at all of what he precisely said. But I returned in my thoughts to that from time to time.

And now, relatively late in life, I do so again. Yes, I’ve believed this is truth, that it applies to me, but I often still struggle in regard to it. I think I understand much of the answer in my mind, but I’m afraid it hasn’t made much inroad into my heart. But even with that, I still have made sure progress in holding on longer what I believe in my head, so that I’ve experienced more of God’s breakthroughs of peace amidst the storm.

One way of approaching this which might be helpful is to seek to land and stand on truth. If we believe that the God who is love has made that love known through the sacrificial death of Christ, then we need to stand by faith on that truth, whatever emotions to the contrary we might be experiencing, including crippling fear. Our judgment has been taken care of through Christ, who took that judgment on himself at the cross.

The faith which is involved is not only about grasping and holding on to something: God’s word to us in Christ. But it’s also about letting go of what has bound and crippled, or at least to some extent has hampered us over the years.

Come what may, whatever we face, we need to stand firmly in this one place, that of God’s love for us in Christ. When we do so, we’re standing in the one true perfect love. And by and by we’ll begin to know something of the experience of that, something in itself that never depends on our own feelings, but where God wants us to learn to live. Away from any feeling of panic or dread. In the reality of God’s love, the God who is love. In and through Jesus.

mercy triumphs over judgment

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

No matter how hard we might try, it’s easy to be critical of others. From someone cutting in front of you on the road to people not doing their work well to whatever else it might be, it’s easy to find fault.

James’s words here seem to indicate a lack of comprehension in simply misjudging others. Here it’s probably looking down on the poor while looking up at the rich. We put the rich on a pedestal thinking somehow they deserve their wealth and are a cut above the rest. And that the poor are poor for a reason. Sadly we don’t know the real stories, and we fail to factor in our own great need.

The point James makes here is that mercy is to prevail over judgment. That when it’s all said and done for us, we need to be extending mercy to others, not our good and even right judgment. In important part because we truly don’t know it all, and because we ourselves need that same mercy, yes, every day. The mercy that triumphs over judgment through the gospel. In and through Jesus.

living in a different world

Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses.

1 Timothy 6:12b

It is one thing to believe with the promise of eternal life. It’s another thing to take hold of the eternal life, as Paul is saying here to Timothy. What this amounts to is living in a different world with feet solidly on the ground in the real world. And what’s involved in that is the presence of Christ in the world found in the church, the body of Christ. The groundbreaking for that was in Christ’s resurrection from the dead bringing the new life into the world destined to transform everything: the new creation in Christ.

Thankfully for us in Christ the real world is rooted in Christ. What is passing away seems front and center now, but not to us. What is front and center for us is nothing more and nothing less than the new creation in Christ. We live in a different world entirely. But to do so we too need to take hold of that world by faith. To live in that so that it permeates our lives through and through. But meant for this world, invading and somehow impacting the world through the presence and life of Christ in us. That others might see and believe. With impact on culture and judgment and final salvation to come. In and through Jesus.

 

the opinion/knowing that matters

This, then, is how you ought to regard us: as servants of Christ and as those entrusted with the mysteries God has revealed. Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful. I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself. My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait until the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of the heart. At that time each will receive their praise from God.

1 Corinthians 4:1-5

I think it’s wise when a church does not rush into judgments “where angels fear to tread.” At the same time the church does have responsibility to make judgments on cases involving sin which violate covenant faithfulness. We see that in this same letter, soon following this passage (5:1-13). So this passage has nothing at all to do with that.

What Paul was getting at here is judgment of the heart: the motives, why people, specifically in this case Christian leaders do what they do. Whether it’s for the glory of God, out of love for God and for others. And that standard was not just for leaders, though they were to exemplify it.

The older I get, the less trusting I am of either my own motives, or my ability to judge them. It has been well said, people have mixed motives for what they do. Some may be good, some not as good, and some even bad. It it’s to call any attention to ourselves, or somehow to make us think we’re better than others, than of course it’s no good. I am skeptical of the idea that whenever we do something, it is bound to have mixed motives. I’m not sure that’s sound Biblically and theologically. By grace it seems to me that we can do something out of sheer love. But in the end I would go where Paul goes in this passage. I can’t judge the heart on any particular instance. Only God can do that.

Sometimes I do need some straightening out along the way. That can come indirectly through others, and always directly from the Lord through the convicting, convincing work of the Holy Spirit. Often though for me, I’m muddling along in the messiness of life, aware of perceived deficiencies, sometimes seeming to crush me in a kind of condemning way, a sure sign that God is nowhere near such a judgment.

Anything like that we need to let go of. Realizing that in the end it’s God who will make the final judgment, and in the meantime will help us along the way. The bottom line is that we need to trust in God. Sometimes in this life someone like a needed surgeon, can help us discern issues underneath the surface which are harmful to us, and likely to others (Proverbs 20:5).

In the end, it’s God who makes all the final judgments. And note that then, each person will receive praise from God. Not condemnation at all, nor even censure. The text says, praise from God. We can’t make an argument from silence, but this is encouraging. I take it that the Father will want to sound that note for each of his children, when it’s all said and done.

Does this thought lend itself to carelessness? I surely hope not. God’s grace is at work in our lives to give us a heart to follow him in love and service for others. In and through Jesus.

grace and judgment

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

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

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

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

end time scripture and the world

The seventh angel sounded his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven, which said:

“The kingdom of the world has become
the kingdom of our Lord and of his Messiah,
and he will reign for ever and ever.”

And the twenty-four elders, who were seated on their thrones before God, fell on their faces and worshiped God, saying:

“We give thanks to you, Lord God Almighty,
the One who is and who was,
because you have taken your great power
and have begun to reign.
The nations were angry,
and your wrath has come.
The time has come for judging the dead,
and for rewarding your servants the prophets
and your people who revere your name,
both great and small—
and for destroying those who destroy the earth.”

Revelation 11:15-18

I’ve been reading end time scenarios in the gospel accounts of Matthew, Mark, and now recently in Luke, and of course you have to read them in context and with reference to the immediate fulfillment in the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the temple in 70 AD, along with the final fulfillment to come. I think there is a good case for seeing them as largely fulfilled; note carefully the words. But there’s no doubt, especially when one considers the book of Revelation, that there’s more to come, and along the same lines, as the spirit of Antichrist continues on in this world (1 John). I’m a person who rejects conspiracy theories, and skeptical by nature, but the more we know about the world at large, as well as in its detail, the more I find the words of scripture about end times not only plausible, but more and more compelling. Include Daniel in reading about end time scenarios, along with 2 Thessalonians.

Read scripture, read the world, then read between the lines.