don’t blame God (or the devil)

When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.

Don’t be deceived, my dear brothers and sisters. Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created.

James 1:13-18

We are our own worst enemies. If only we would understand that, and take it to heart. It’s not like there isn’t a tempter out there, or that the stuff life throws our way makes it easy for us. Not at all. And reality is that the world (system), the flesh, and the devil are linked; you can’t separate them in reality. At the same time, we are sinful enough on our own; we need no help from the devil. That realm of evil, the demonic, does throw gasoline on the fire we’ve already lit.

James doesn’t so much as mention the devil here, though he does later in this letter (4:7), and chapter 3 definitely alludes to the demonic when speaking of the tongue as set on fire by hell itself. We are more than capable all on our own, just the point James makes here. It’s our own desire, tainted by sin which results in death. And the problem certainly doesn’t come from God, who instead is the giver of all that is good.

James turns our focus from ourselves and our sin to God and his goodness. But we must not be in a hurry to get to this point. We need to take seriously every letter and line James writes about temptation, and our own blame in giving into it. But then we need to remember God’s gifts, and especially the gift of his regenerating work through the word of truth, the gospel. Through that work we are made new, so that we can not only begin to understand the problem, but also overcome it. Otherwise why would James write this letter? He does so with the pastoral intent of helping us do what we hear and profess, as well as confess. In and through Jesus.

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grace changes

For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.

Titus 2:11-14

I don’t like talk against religion, and comparing that to relationship, because it seems to me that religion properly understood is what God put in place to bring about relationship, all through God’s grace in Jesus. But we can contrast law and grace, and see from places like Romans 7, compared to Romans 6 and 8, that the law helps us see our need, but ultimately can only condemn us. What we’re in need of is grace (Romans 6) and the Spirit (Romans 8) through Christ. And this grace changes us, in contrast to law. We can’t do it on our own.

It offers, or more literally brings salvation to all people. In other words, this grace is tied to salvation. We can’t do it on our own for sure. We need Christ. Or what we evangelicals like to call “a personal relationship with Christ.” We need to keep reading the entire Bible on what it means to know God. It is quite down to earth, and not just about “me and God.” Yet it is personal and relational. God loves us as if we were the only being that exists, because God is pure love. God can love each and every individual that way, and does.

So that God sent his Son. Remember, God did not hate the world so much that he sent his Son, but loved the world in this way, or so much, that he sent the Son (John 3:16). And while God loves the sinner, when one repents and believes through the gospel, the good news in Jesus of Jesus and his death and resurrection, than one enters into a relational, saving love, which helps one navigate life in such a way as not to please themselves, but God. And paradoxically end up pleasing themselves in the process. Whereas those who live to please themselves, will in the end be displeasing to themselves and others. Or, to get to Jesus’s point: Those who seek to save their lives will lose them, while those who lose their lives for him and the gospel, will actually find them. We begin to find our true selves as God created us, in and through the new creation in Jesus (Titus 3:3-8).

And so we’re all in need. And the answer is to live in God’s grace by the Spirit, a grace available to us all in the salvation of God in Jesus.

 

learning to rest in a restless world

There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from their works, just as God did from his. Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will perish by following their example of disobedience.

Hebrews 4:9-11

I have wondered, and still do, over all the passages in the Old Testament which mandate Sabbath keeping for God’s people Israel, and really come across as harsh, at least to me, and probably to most of us. There were no ands, ifs, or buts about it. You did keep the Sabbath, period. Or you were at least regarded as an outcast. Of course then it meant resting one day in seven, confining work to the other six days.

In the New Testament in Jesus, Sabbath keeping seems to have taken on a different meaning. It’s really not about a day, but more about one’s attitude in life coming from one’s faith in Jesus. That’s not to say that it’s not good to rest one day in seven. And in Christian circles, various churches and denominations, there used to be pretty strict standards and rules for Sunday, what you could and could not do. That seems now at least mostly a bygone era.

Sabbath rest in the New Testament, and we do well to say, in the new covenant, is about something else entirely, rather mystical in its source, but down to earth in its outworking. It’s about learning to rest in Jesus in what amounts to a restless world. And it’s not a matter of just a nice thing to do. Sabbath keeping in that way ends up being a matter of life and death. Note the passage above, as well as what we noted about Sabbath keeping in the Bible. It is not a recommendation, or suggestion. It is a command, and it really ends up being part and parcel of the faith.

Yes, I know, it can simply mean I put my trust alone in Jesus for my salvation. That I’m not trusting in my works or in myself to get that done. And that is at the heart of this. But it includes our attitude toward all of life, including our work. The work by which we’re not saved is the kind of work we’re to avoid altogether. It is not work which is accepted by God. Only God’s works are accepted by him. So that we need to enter into that work, so that our works are actually a part of his. You read glimmers of this even in the Old Testament. It was a reality back then. How much more so now in Christ?

We could misread the above passage to suggest that regularly we need to rest from our works, like one day in seven. But that’s not what it’s saying. It seems more like suggesting that we leave our own works behind entirely. That they’re not part of the equation. So that it’s not the old Ted who is present with all the good things he used to do of the old creation. But instead it’s the new Ted, with the good works God gives which are part of the new creation in Jesus.

The world won’t accept this, and it won’t be easy for most any of us to accept. We’re to be restless, working hard, trying to outdo others, or at least keep up a certain pace needed, and indeed often required to achieve worldly success. And one might get comfortable in that mode and even seem to be at rest. That attitude can carry over right into the church, and into Christian service and work.

Instead we need the new way in Jesus. Which is of Jesus, certainly like him. So that we become more and more the person we’re meant to be in him. That people might sense him in us, even as they come to know the new self that is emerging. Through the sabbath rest given to us by God in and through Jesus.

Jesus’s resurrection: the beginning of the new creation

The nuts and bolts of scripture are so important, and where we live, but we also need to step back and take a look at the whole. And get a breathtaking sweep of what’s going on. Or try to get some sense of that. If we don’t, we may too easily miss the point of it all. Yet it’s something that we need to keep working at. Which is why we need to be in all of scripture, as well as in each part of it, especially noting some of the places of beauty and grandeur such as Romans 8, Isaiah 40 and 53, etc., along with many beautiful scenes along the way. Not to mention a good number of difficult ones as well. Such is life. And we need to pay attention to life. And know that God will show up in unusual, unexpected ways in some of its most difficult, and to us, unlikely places.

But having just celebrated Easter yesterday, remembering Jesus’s resurrection day, we now enter into, what’s called on the Christian calendar, Eastertide, or Easter season. Since we’re no longer a part of a church which observes the Christian calendar, except for the big holy days such as Christmas and Easter, I won’t dwell much on tradition. Just to say that those practices can help us center on the gospel, which in the case of the resurrection is about a new life which begins now through faith in Christ (and baptism, see the New Testament; although it’s symbolic, it seems to be a symbolism which helps us appreciate and perhaps enter more fully into the reality: note Romans 6 and elsewhere).

As C. S. Lewis indicated in his classic, The Great Divorce, “Heaven”, as we call it, is not going to be something more mystical, but actually more material and solid than what we know now, so that if we were to step into the new heaven and new earth without the change to come in the resurrection, we wouldn’t be able to endure it. Heaven coming down to earth and becoming one, is central to the new creation in Jesus which begins at his resurrection (N. T. Wright), so that the new creation in Jesus begins there, he being the firstfruits of those to be raised from the dead, who have fallen asleep in death (1 Corinthians 15).

And this new creation in Jesus does not just include the resurrection of our bodies, but the resurrection and renewal of all things, actually a brand new creation, making all things new. The God who created all things, can make a brand new creation, one not subject to the physics and destiny of this old creation. Just as Jesus’s body was not subject to the limitations our bodies have now, or for that matter his body had before his resurrection, so the material world will then be different. I think there will be those who carry on the work of science during that time. They will be just as astounded as now, probably all the more. There will be an endless amount of worlds to explore, discoveries to be made.

But what does all of that matter for us now? At the end of 1 Corinthians 15, Paul nails it down with the point that since the resurrection of Christ and all that follows is true, then we’re to give ourselves fully to his work, knowing that’s it’s not in vain.

Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.

As N. T. Wright suggests, the tie is surely to what preceded it, the point of the resurrection. Otherwise, as the same passage says, we might as well eat and drink and be merry, live it up now, because tomorrow we die, so that there’s no point in thinking what we do now matters beyond this life. But beside the point that it can actually matter greatly for better or for worse in this life, we need to remember and hold on to the truth that somehow in Jesus what happens in this old creation impacts what will be true in the new creation. The subtleties of that, how it will be worked out remain to be seen. We just have to believe it to be the case, so that on the basis of Christ’s resurrection we know that what we do now in him does matter. Not only for this life, but also for the life to come. In and through Jesus.

grace to continue

The week of Jesus’s death and resurrection, which we now call Holy Week was a most difficult time for Jesus’s disciples, as we see from the gospel accounts. It is practically amazing that all of them except Judas not only were in it for the long haul, but gave their lives up in martyrdom because of their testimony to Jesus, and his death and resurrection.

This reminds me of the grace we need to continue no matter what. Why do some drop out of the Christian faith altogether? Some do, and there are surely a good number of reasons surrounding that. But the crux of the matter from one angle is the failure to simply continue in the grace of God available in Jesus. We see from various passages in the New Testament that simply to continue on in the grace of God is what keeps us keeping on in Jesus. We all need that.

The grace of God here simply refers to what we need to keep us both believing and following our Lord. Of course there is much involved in that, as we see from scripture. We continue to follow Jesus not because of us, or our circumstances. But always because of God’s gift to us in Jesus. Not even with the natural good by creation that is in us, that we are. But only through the new creation in Jesus (2 Corinthians 5:17). And so we follow. Only in and through him.

Jesus’s full participation in being an ordinary human (and what follows)

When it comes right down to it, every human being in an ordinary person, including Jesus, who though being God, became human, so that he is God and human at the same time. Remarkable. But yet somehow an ordinary human being.

When I say ordinary, I mean genuine, real, nothing more/nothing less. The truth of the matter about ordinary people is that really all ordinary people are extraordinary in the sense that they are made in God’s image, and therefore unique within creation. What it means to be in God’s image probably involves a number of things, including the special task God gave humankind at the beginning to be steward rulers, one might say, over God’s good earth. To rule under God, and to be in relationship with the God who essentially is Relationship as Trinity: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Jesus will forever remain unique, since somehow in mystery he is both fully God, and fully human. That God, yes God became human in and of itself is remarkable, because while God in essence is of course unchanged, yet God’s participation in humanity, even sharing in humanity by becoming human is a radical change. But it just goes to show how extraordinary, ordinary people are in the first place.

And so I like to highlight in my mind both just how ordinary we humans are, and how God in Jesus partook of that ordinariness. Remember during Jesus’s life that those who knew him noted nothing more remarkable than that he was the carpenter’s son, and the carpenter (Matthew 13; Mark 6). Not that such wasn’t good; it was simply in contrast to the work he was taking on, and the claims along with that.

But I also want to highlight that each and every human is also extraordinary, at the very least in creation and potential, and in ways we might not suspect or understand, and yet can begin to appreciate. That actually includes every human being. And how in Jesus, God takes us up into the full potential and meaning of what it means to be created in God’s image. Of course Jesus is the complete, exact, full, we could say unblemished image of God in humanity. As Colossians tells us, “all the fullness of the Deity…in bodily form” (Colossians 2:9; see also Colossians 1; Hebrews 1:3).

Humans are special in being uniquely related to God. That is evident in creation, and made clear in new creation, entered into by faith, with baptism accompanying that, picturing another aspect of why God became flesh, to take us humans through death into the fullness of life.

And so we need not diminish who we are, nor should we get any kind of big head about it. Humans are indeed humbled yet exalted in and through Jesus. We have a special place and identity in and through him. So that we should embrace our humanity in terms of God’s good creation and will for us fulfilled in new creation in and through Jesus.

the beauty and brokenness of life

We see everywhere both the wonder and brokenness of life. There is something wonderful about our world, even about us. And yet there’s something broken as well, that needs fixed. Beauty and brokenness all around us, yes, even in our midst, and within us.

We can get so used to it, that we live in it without much complaint, but bearing its weight. This reminds me of Jesus’s healing of a woman:

On a Sabbath Jesus was teaching in one of the synagogues, and a woman was there who had been crippled by a spirit for eighteen years. She was bent over and could not straighten up at all. When Jesus saw her, he called her forward and said to her, “Woman, you are set free from your infirmity.” Then he put his hands on her, and immediately she straightened up and praised God.

Indignant because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, the synagogue leader said to the people, “There are six days for work. So come and be healed on those days, not on the Sabbath.”

The Lord answered him, “You hypocrites! Doesn’t each of you on the Sabbath untie your ox or donkey from the stall and lead it out to give it water? Then should not this woman, a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has kept bound for eighteen long years, be set free on the Sabbath day from what bound her?”

When he said this, all his opponents were humiliated, but the people were delighted with all the wonderful things he was doing.

Luke 13:10-17

And it also reminds me of the prayer the Lord taught us to pray, this part:

Our Father in heaven…
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
    on earth as it is in heaven.

Matthew 6:9-10

So we live in a beautiful, yet broken world. And the promise in Jesus is both for the present and the future: this present existence, and the life to come. So that we want to pray and work against the brokenness present now, especially the worst of it. I think of slave trade, ongoing injustice against African Americans and against other people in other places, abortion, etc., etc. There are hands on practical ways in which we can help. And of course the ultimate answer is in Jesus, and God’s good news in him.

May God help us see where this healing can take take place now and what place we can have in that, and may we hold on to the hope of the ultimate healing to come, when heaven and earth become one at Jesus’s return, in and through Jesus.