love is at the heart of this crazy world with the promise that it won’t end here

We have a new kitty, Cloe. We already have a male cat, Ashton, a nice talkative, but relatively to himself cat, who does want occasional petting on the head. Cloe was a thin, hungry kitten confined to a then cold outdoors, meowing frantically outside a home where folks couldn’t have a cat. So we rescued her. She’s a healthy kitten now, full of life and play. And quite a cuddler. She reminds us so much of another kitty we had, Sarah Belle, who was so affectionate with everyone, but sadly died of feline leukemia. Cloe will put her face against yours if you let her, her nose against your nose.

We’re told in Scripture that God is love (1 John). That may seem far fetched given all we see and know about nature and humankind. Of course Christians mark that down as part of the Fall as recorded in Genesis 3. I see it more as part of creation and the promise of what is to come. The God who created all things which in themselves have their limits, can create a new world in which those limitations are gone. That is seen in the new creation in Jesus begun at his resurrection from the dead into a new sphere and dimension of life, which has some radical discontinuity with the present, along with complete continuity in love by the Spirit.

God’s love factors into all else about God, not that we can even hope to track with everything about God. But we are made in God’s image, and we can like David be people after God’s own heart, grow toward that, in and through Jesus, who was and is the very heart of God, in the complete and full likeness of God, “in whom is the fullness of Deity in humanity” (Colossians).

We are loved by our Creator. He waits with open arms, looking for us to come. As we see in Jesus’s parable of the lost son (two lost sons, actually) he will receive us fully with no strings attached. Love. That’s at the heart of everything in this crazy world. With the promise of a new world to come in which that will be fully and forever realized. In and through Jesus.

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saved for good works

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

Ephesians 2:8-10

This is a classical salvation verse quoted many times, and used to show that our works don’t save us, but faith. Of course the faith that saves us works, as James clearly teaches. James seems to contradict Paul in that he says we are justified by works, whereas Paul says we’re not justified by works, but by faith. I think the point James was making is that our faith is proved genuine by our works. Paul really says the same thing if you read his letters. And this passage points that direction as well. We are actually created in Christ Jesus for good works. The point of the Greek word, peripateō (περιπατήσωμεν), likely means that good works are our way of life in Christ Jesus.

The good works we do are as unique as the new creations, indeed handiwork each one of us are in Christ Jesus. We are all created uniquely different, like different snowflakes. And new creation is the same. Many of us may do the same things, but they have our own signature on them, exactly how we do them. And we also do different things. Some are adept with hammers and nails, others at playing music, still others in solving problems, and the list goes on and on. There are a number of spiritual gifts listed in different places in scripture (1 Corinthians 13; Romans 12; Ephesians 4; 1 Peter 4), all involving good works. Whatever our hand finds to do, we’re to do it wholeheartedly and for the Lord as a blessing to others.

Of course what we do is all because of God’s gift to us. We can and should develop what has been given to us, but in the end we have to recognize that it’s 100% a gift from God. So that God gets all the glory as we give him thanks for what we can do, actually often enjoy doing, and with the wonder that it can be a blessing to others.

What we do proceeds from who we are. And who we are can be a mix of good and bad due to creation and sin, true for us at least much of the time even as Christians. We must be humble, knowing whatever is good comes from God. The desire to do so, and the actual work itself. In and through Jesus.

sadness over loss in this world

It is better to go to a house of mourning
than to go to a house of feasting,
for death is the destiny of everyone;
the living should take this to heart.
Frustration is better than laughter,
because a sad face is good for the heart.
The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning,
but the heart of fools is in the house of pleasure.

Ecclesiastes 7:2-4

The writer of Ecclesiastes refers to what we might call a mark of one’s character over against holding it as a literal notion that people ought always to be somber, rather than enjoy life and laugh. To say we live in a tragic world would surely be an understatement. Sooner or later all things perish. But it’s especially troubling when either something good is out of place, like the maple tree we had plans for, but which I’m doing away with now, with grief and a heavy heart. Or perfectly in place, but lost.

I am glad we were able to take in a little kitty, which is just as cute as can be: lively, affectionate, and a companion to our other cat. But so many cats are lost, or live difficult lives in this world. Not that I’m a cat lover, although they’ve grown on me a bit, since my wife does love cats.

Yesterday I found myself praying that someday in the new creation this very same maple tree I’m cutting down now might be present in all its glory. Of course in a way trees are a dime a dozen. They’re cut down for all kinds of paper, for furniture, yes for wood burning. And although they are amazing in their biology, they actually are not made in God’s image like humans. Yet we can have an attachment to some of them. I love our Redpointe Maple in the middle of our front yard. The other maple in all its glory is unfortunately not in the best place. We didn’t realize it at the time. Interestingly enough we have what are considered to be weed trees growing more than twenty feet away from the maples near the border of our property. Although we did have them trimmed, we simply can’t afford to cut them down yet, though it would be nice to do so someday, since they potentially affect the growth of the tree we did plant and are the kind of trees that would be better in a forest. I would not grieve their loss at all, but rather, would be relieved if they were gone. But such is life.

We don’t live in an ideal world. All is not well in this world. And we shouldn’t suppose it ever could be, even while we should be doing our best to manage everything well as good stewards of God’s gifts, in love. We accept the good and the bad of this life, and continue on. Believing the new creation has entered creation in the person of Jesus. And looking forward to the new world to come in him (Romans 8:18-22) when all good gifts of God will be in their place never to be lost again.

 

what are we becoming?

It’s interesting how people think that if they repent and say they’re sorry, and maybe even ask for forgiveness, that then they’ve changed. The point of repentance actually is more than confession and reparation. It is indeed change. And the needed change doesn’t come overnight, even though in initial repentance one is turned from wrong to right. Thorough change of heart and life ordinarily if not always takes time, and even in a true sense, a lifetime.

Psalm 51, the great penitential psalm expressed woeful sorrow to God for offending God over the sin done, and asks for changed heart out of which can come a changed life. A good question is simply: What are we becoming? And another: What factors are involved in that, or behind it. Often there can be a mix of things in the works, even contradictory. We can be pulled this way and that. But we can’t go two directions at the same time. Whatever form the flesh takes is the flesh still. It’s either the flesh or the Spirit, serving God or serving Mammon/money, or whatever. Which in part is why we’re told in Proverbs:

Above all else, guard your heart,
for everything you do flows from it.

Proverbs 4:23

It is a scary thought actually, the idea that we can be becoming something other than what God would want, and actually therefore, what we would want as well. Just something small can get hold of the heart, take over, and eventually change us through and through. Or the good thought and hope, that as by grace we pick up just something of the goodness of God, what can help us in the way in Christ, that too can permeate us, and put us on the road to Christ-likeness and the restoration of our true humanity in the new creation.

What God did in the Incarnation which we especially remember this time of the year: becoming one of us, fully human, in the Son uniting his deity with our humanity (Gregory of Nazianzen). God changing so that we might change, humanity forever elevated through new creation to fulfill the goal of creation through the Incarnation and the salvation which came through the death and resurrection of the God-Man, the Human One. Amazingly God became human so that we might share in God’s nature. In and through Jesus.

 

goodness after faith

His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.

For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But whoever does not have them is nearsighted and blind,forgetting that they have been cleansed from their past sins.

Therefore, my brothers and sisters, make every effort to confirm your calling and election. For if you do these things, you will never stumble,and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

2 Peter 1:1-11

Knowledge is the watchword not only nowadays, but for some time now. Our universities value knowledge above all else. It is popular to assume that it can solve all our problems, or we can solve our problems, and come to live a flourishing life through knowledge. And indeed knowledge is important in its place. And right at our fingertips nowadays, we can answer any question in less than a minute, then find out much more. That’s a blessing.

The only problem is that knowledge in itself rarely if at all changes us. Something else must come before that if indeed we are to change. There has to be a “goodness” which takes in a number of other virtues, not the least of which is humility, before knowledge can arguably help us at all. There is no end to how humans can misuse knowledge.

This all began in the Garden of Eden when Adam and Eve ate from the one tree forbidden, “the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” In doing so, theology says they lost their innocence. And key in it was the serpent’s suggestion to Eve by insinuation that God is not really good since God would withhold something good from Adam and Eve (Genesis 3). We could say that knowledge, in this case an experiential knowledge replaced faith.

It’s not like the two are mutually exclusive. But for human flourishing, one has to precede the other. Faith comes first. By faith we can properly understand. And at the heart of such understanding is a commitment to goodness. But even that must begin by realizing that God is good and that God’s goodness precedes our own, evident even from the passage of Peter quoted above. We must hold on to faith in God, and in God’s goodness.

Because of God’s greatness and goodness given to us in his promises and our actual participation in God’s nature, we’re to make every effort to add to our faith, goodness, etc. Although exegetes say the order doesn’t matter, and I wouldn’t argue against that. They are all important, and need to be taken together. Yet in the actual reading, goodness is after faith, and after goodness, knowledge. I can’t help but think the sequence of wording has some meaning to it. All that we’re to add to faith must be taken together. We don’t add just one of them at a time, but all of it together in a lump sum; they all go together. Without goodness, knowledge is bereft. And without knowledge, goodness is frustrated and potentially even somewhat limited, we might say.

This all begins with God’s goodness, along with his greatness. From that God gifts us with yes, that very same goodness. A goodness meant for us humans made in God’s image. Essentially basic to our basic humanity in creation, and in becoming fully human in the new creation in and through Jesus.

the difference: God’s word

Whether you read Genesis 1, John 1, or look elsewhere, the difference for the Christian is in God’s word making what is either dark and chaotic, or even nonexistent, good and very good. From creation to new creation, culminated in the Word made flesh. It’s God’s word that makes the needed difference in our lives and out from our lives into the world.

God is personal, and communicates to us through the Bible and the gospel, but does so in a very direct, personal way. God also communicates through nature, and other means, and I’m especially thinking of people who have no access to scripture, or who have not heard the gospel. Scripture tells us that faith comes from hearing the message of Christ. Much to me is in the dark, but I accept what is in the light, and the light and life given to me is through God’s word.

It is important to be in scripture, but equally important to seek to find how it personally speaks to us, or more accurately, how God is speaking to us through it, with the goal of having ears to hear, a heart to listen, and the will to change. Of course it is always and forever by grace, a gift from God, something we could never merit, earn, or deserve, or come up with on our own.

God’s word is what can and will see us through, as we by faith hear and apply it, trusting and obeying God, finding our way through this dark and broken existence in and through Jesus.

no paradise here

But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells.

2 Peter 3:13

Utopianism is the push to find, or more precisely, create the perfect place for people to live. It is an ideal striving in that direction to minimize risk and maximize safety and well being. The goal of a flourishing human community is good of course, and actually biblical in the vision from the prophets carried over into the New Testament of a promise of a new world to come, a new creation in which the old is made new.

We might as well face it: we live in a fallen world. The story in Genesis 1 through 3, then beyond, makes that clear. And it’s right in our faces day after day, week after week, year after year. There’s no escape. Money and the best that is known may help alleviate some of it for a time, but even that’s not foolproof. Life is good, and we should thank God for all the good we experience in it. But it’s uncertain. Actually, given all the problems, it’s remarkable it’s as stable as it is. I guess that depends on where one lives. Some areas are not as stable.

So we do well just to get on with it, and deal with the problems we face, hopefully one at a time, and learn to enjoy life in a world in which so much is not ideal. We learn to breathe the air of the new creation, which we look forward to in its completion. When all will be well. But until then we wait, and live in a world that is broken, our own brokenness included. And make the most of it, as we seek to live in God’s will in and through Jesus.