the good to come from the bad

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who are being protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, even if now for a little while you have had to suffer various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith—being more precious than gold that, though perishable, is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Although you have not seen him, you love him, and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, for you are receiving the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

1 Peter 1:3-9; NRSVue

And all of you must clothe yourselves with humility in your dealings with one another, for

“God opposes the proud
but gives grace to the humble.”

Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God, so that he may exalt you in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you. Discipline yourselves; keep alert. Like a roaring lion your adversary the devil prowls around, looking for someone to devour. Resist him, steadfast in your faith, for you know that your brothers and sisters in all the world are undergoing the same kinds of suffering. And after you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, support, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the power forever and ever. Amen.

1 Peter 5:5b-11; NRSVue

We don’t like the things that come our way which are threatening or troubling. And it’s easy to become unsettled. But what if God allows, maybe even orchestrates such so that good might come out of it? God of course is never the source of evil. But there is evil in the world, much of which we who are privileged are oblivious to. But what if God allows us to experience some of that to help us become part of the solution?

As we’re told elsewhere, trials come into our lives to make us more complete and whole, if we only respond in faith, believing God’s is at work in them (James 1). God wants to grow us and make us into people we weren’t before through whatever difficulty we face. And not only that, but to hopefully bring good into the situation for the people involved in whatever way. It is a work involving God’s love on one end, and in response our love on the other. A part of our life especially together, but individually as well, in Christ.

holiness

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.

what does love think?

Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. Anyone who claims to know something does not yet have the necessary knowledge, but anyone who loves God is known by him.

1 Corinthians 8:1b-3; NRSVue

[Love] hopes all things…

1 Corinthians 13:7; NRSVue

Knowledge is given much pride of place in our world, even if there has been a severe backsliding in that area as of late. There’s no doubt that it has an important place in human existence. Wisdom must accompany it, or otherwise we’re stuck with problems like the specter (fearful threat) of nuclear holocaust. Along with wisdom, something even greater must accompany it, according to Paul. Nothing less than love.

Surely we need to read the Bible and all of life with both the lens of Christ and love. Of course people will rightfully want to know what our definition of love is, and just who this Christ is we profess. As Christians, Christ-followers, people of faith, we point to the cross. To understand God, we have to look to Jesus hanging on the cross, God in Christ thus reconciling the world to God’s self. The God who is love is Jesus.

Only love knows in any true sense of the word, according to Paul. Only the mind animated and moved by love, considering all things with the love of God in Christ at the center, and through which we consider everything, is of any value. Sheer knowledge by itself is not only not enough, but ultimately ends up being devilish, puffed up.

Just a simple word that I always need, to apply to everything.

yes peace, for Christ’s sake

Then Peter began to speak to them: “I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every people anyone who fears him and practices righteousness is acceptable to him. You know the message he sent to the people of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ—he is Lord of all.

Acts 10:34-36; NRSVue

I don’t know how we can’t be more than hoping for peace, peace, and more peace in this war torn, angry, divisive, hate-filled, deceived and deceptive mess which is too much of this life and world. We long, long, long for peace. But is it good enough to just have peace?

If we define peace as absence of conflict, wouldn’t that be wonderful? If we add to that definition justice in human flourishing on an individual and communal as well as systemic level, then we’re getting closer to the Biblical meaning of peace (shalom, שָׁלוֹם).

Peace in and of itself is not enough. There was Pax Romana and we’ve heard “peace through strength.” Sometimes something like that has been justified on the basis of an acceptance of something akin to Christendom or a Christian nationalistic ideal which somehow justifies imposing peace through physical force. Many problems, even dangers result. One is the cycle of violence. Violated peoples don’t forget, and once given the chance, will seek revenge.

Christ came in large part to put an end to that violence through the peace given by the blood of his cross, his death. This is a peace which ultimately reconciles all peoples. Too many will say, in the sweet by and by. Yes, there too. But it’s meant to challenge the powers that be now. Only we in Christ carry that peace. Not to say that Christ’s peace isn’t somehow disseminated in the world through those who perhaps don’t know his name. But Christ is always and forever the source of that one true lasting forever peace.

But here on the ground we have to learn to do the hard work of bringing that peace into the most difficult situations. Yes, it won’t always work, especially among those who are set in their ways, be it religious, political or otherwise. But we must press on together in Christ to work at bringing in the peace that only Christ can bring, amongst ourselves and for the world. For the world’s sake, and for Jesus’s sake as well.

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.

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.

the necessity and blessing of self-control

For this very reason, you must make every effort to support your faith…with self-control…

2 Peter 1:5-6

I almost entitled this “the necessity and blessing of good old fashioned self-control” but thought better, since what we’re referring to here is not some stoic (as we mean that nowadays), self-made operation or effort. God’s grace underlies all, as seen clearly in this passage (click link).

But I would like to highlight self-control in a way which puts an emphasis on it. A good friend pointed out to me that it is not self-control, but God’s control which we’re after. Okay, I get the point. But I would counter with something like this: God’s grace and work, and if you want to put it that way and surely this has validity if understood correctly- God’s control, under all of that, we have to exert self-control.

And it’s not like we don’t have opportunities to do that. They are surely multitudinous, many. Think of whatever it is that can get us offtrack: Worry/anxiety, fear, greed, jealousy/envy, lust, anger, harsh words, and rabbit holes of many kinds. You name it. In all of that, in all of life we have opportunity time and again, over and over to exercise self-control.

And we especially need to do this when we feel dead inside, and when all of our impulses would move us otherwise. That may seem like an us-thing and not a God-thing, but self-control is self control. Yes the Spirit can and will help us in this, as it is listed as part of the fruit of the Spirit which in essence is love (Galatians 5:23). But I want to once again emphasize: This is something we do yes with God’s help, but we still do it. We’re not automatons; we do this one might say in cooperation with God. Yes, God’s grace underlies all, every good thing is a gift. But we still end up having to do what is not automatic in and of itself.

In the Hebrew Bible/ Old Testament and I think carried over into the New Testament, God seems to expect people to do better, and over and over again takes especially God’s people to task for doing otherwise. We need to hear this and take it seriously. We will fail along the way, but then we need to exercise self-control then as well, and get out of that ditch through confession and doing what needs to be done to do what is right and good.

A great opportunity for us.

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.

how is God’s judgment evident, yes, on God’s people?

“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! See, your house is left to you, desolate. For I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.’ ”

As Jesus came out of the temple and was going away, his disciples came to point out to him the buildings of the temple. Then he asked them, “You see all these, do you not? Truly I tell you, not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.”

Matthew 23:37-24:2

What was true in Jesus’s day is just as true today. God’s judgment is on religious leaders, those supposedly the closest to God, I’m referring now to Christians. Not so much if at all on those they are leading, except to say that this is a case of the blind leading the blind which ends up disastrous for all. But the heavy judgment falls on the religious leaders.

They had their agenda and believed that God was all about doing their bidding, or that’s what they wished. And they got their way. But we see what followed. In Jesus’s day, the destruction of the Temple and the fall of Jerusalem. We see now religious leaders, prominent, not only defending but even promoting what amounts to an abomination in the eyes of God. Completely oblivious, evidently, to Jesus’s call of judgment on the rich and powerful, and blessing of the poor and marginalized.

The only correct posture before God for us all is one of humiliation and repentance. That is not what we’re seeing today, and we see God’s judgment in letting them go their way, along with the beginning of what follows as a precursor of what may come.

And for those who can’t figure this out, remember, as Jesus said, “You’ll know them by their fruits.” Good people do what is good, bad people bad. Love for one’s neighbor, in Jesus’s teaching including love for one’s enemies. Love being love, period. Not tied to whether or not they do what we consider or think is right. Unconditional. Like God’s love displayed in Jesus on the cross.

And as some wise writer said, Idolatry is quite hard to get out of, to repent of, and much easier to work at avoiding.

May God give all of us ears to really hear and hearts to really begin to understand.

 

it will come

I will stand at my watchpost
and station myself on the rampart;
I will keep watch to see what he will say to me
and what he will answer concerning my complaint.
Then the LORD answered me and said:
Write the vision;
make it plain on tablets,
so that a runner may read it.
For there is still a vision for the appointed time;
it speaks of the end and does not lie.
If it seems to tarry, wait for it;
it will surely come; it will not delay.
Look at the proud!
Their spirit is not right in them,
but the righteous live by their faithfulness.
Moreover, wealth is treacherous;
the arrogant do not endure.
They open their throats wide as Sheol;
like Death they never have enough.
They gather all nations for themselves
and collect all peoples as their own.

Habakkuk 2:1-5

This prophetic, poetic book is poignant for our times. We too live in the midst of destructive, even self-destructive machinations on the part of nations as well as tribal allegiances in such nations. And in this, as well as in so much of the world’s history, God seems all but absent.

But as I was reminded recently in our church fellowship, we have hope as a discipline, and indeed like in the case of Habakkuk of old, that hope is given to us from God. Hope, as Paul tells us elsewhere (Romans 8) is not something we already possess, but rather something that we wait for. But somehow such hope sustains us.

All the while we continue in the struggle for what is good, just and true in the sphere of a sustained, responsible, whole love which in the end is for the very best for everyone and for all.