what can God redeem?

“I will repay you for the years the locusts have eaten—
the great locust and the young locust,
the other locusts and the locust swarm—
my great army that I sent among you.
You will have plenty to eat, until you are full,
and you will praise the name of the Lord your God,
who has worked wonders for you;
never again will my people be shamed.
Then you will know that I am in Israel,
that I am the Lord your God,
and that there is no other;
never again will my people be shamed.

Joel 2:25-27

In this passage is the curious idea that God repays something, as if it is owed. In the context, judgment had come on God’s people through locusts devouring the land. But after the people repented of their sin, God’s promise was to restore what the locusts had eaten, the devastation they had caused. And repay is the word used in a number of translations.

Redemption has the idea of paying a price to claim something or someone. And then in this biblical analogy and indeed, reality, the one bought is set free to fulfill their purpose for existence. To be themselves, yes, but redemption in Scripture involves not only being set free from one master, but belonging to the one who paid that price. Ultimately everything is made for God, and is fulfilled within that purpose. We not only have the propensity, but it’s like an addiction to us to seek fulfillment apart from God. When we do that, we become slaves to our addictions, which includes self-fulfillment. But when we find our fulfillment in God, then we can enjoy and appreciate the goodness of God’s gifts without becoming enslaved to any of them.

The human condition is a difficult one, and all of us know and experience that. We all need redemption which comes from God’s mercy and grace in Christ. When that happens, somehow God graciously restores to us something of what was lost. To all humankind in and through Christ, someday a new heaven and a new earth in the new creation already breaking in. In and through Jesus.

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I’m okay; I’m not okay

I was asked recently by a friend how I was doing, maybe even if I was okay. I replied that I’m okay, and I’m not okay. And that’s the way I think and feel about life in this present world.

I’m okay in that my identity is “in Christ.” And I’m part of Christ and his body in the world. “In Christ” I have God’s promises that begin now, and assure a good outcome.

I’m not okay, because of all the suffering in a broken world. Christians are persecuted today, arguably worse than ever, worldwide. And many other peoples suffer as well at the hands of injustice and pure evil.

I am a citizen of a nation (the US) where I don’t believe either major political party is pro-life, if one considers all that’s involved in helping people from the womb to the tomb. And where there’s a growing, deeper divide, the two sides further and further apart. And Christians taking up sides, but where I live, mostly one side, which I think is mistaken. The issues are more complex than that, I think. And neither major party is worthy of endorsement by Christians, but rather, rebuke. But we should praise whatever good we can find.

I am uncomfortable with a Christianity which doesn’t openly grieve over injustice. I don’t believe that is consonant with the Bible I read. How can we be okay when so many Christians are suffering? There’s no doubt that any real suffering in the US, minimal at this point is often self-inflicted through caricatures, and not trying to understand, as well as not accepting what has always been true in the United States: people don’t agree, and often vehemently disagree. Look into the early history of the US, and you’ll find plenty of that, and it never ends.

I think Christians can ultimately be okay, because they know in the end that Christ prevails, that the gospel, the good news in Jesus wins. And that God is working in his grace in spite of so much, often the church in the most persecuted places, growing exponentially and thriving.

Yet at the same time, with Jesus and the prophets we weep. Longing for something better in this life since we’ve been given a taste of that “in Christ.” As we look forward to the end of all the brokenness and evil, in God’s kingdom to come. In and through Jesus.

devotion to prayer

Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful.

Colossians 4:2

If there’s one thing we should do more than anything else, we ought to pray. One could well argue that we ought to be in the word, and meditate on it as a first priority as well, and that’s true. And the apostles spoke of prayer and the ministry of the word, referring to the praying which must accompany their public teaching and preaching.

There are no shortage of things to pray for: our own need and the needs of others. Of course worship and praise of God and confession of sin are staples in our lives in Christ. Prayer here is probably in reference primarily to petitions to God on the basis of God’s promises and the revelation of who God is along with what God wills.

We’re told that along with such prayer, we’re to be watchful and thankful. Possibly watchful for God’s answers, as well as to understand what we ought to pray for in the first place. We’re simply to have an attitude of being alert, awake, again watchful, so that we can both see what to pray for, and anticipate the answer to come.

And we need to be quick to give thanks to God for answers to prayer. As well as having a generally thankful attitude as we pray and await God’s answer. God is good and faithful to his promises. But we must continue in prayer, devoted to it. In and through Jesus.

we follow Abraham in and through Jesus

The Lord said to Abram after Lot had parted from him, “Look around from where you are, to the north and south, to the east and west. All the land that you see I will give to you and your offspring forever. I will make your offspring like the dust of the earth, so that if anyone could count the dust, then your offspring could be counted. Go, walk through the length and breadth of the land, for I am giving it to you.”

Genesis 13:14-17

Abraham’s story is remarkable for a number of reasons. He was an ordinary man in many ways, yet extraordinary as well. I really think that mirrors us. After all, though we’re ordinary too, we are made in God’s image which is extraordinary in itself. If you read Abraham’s story in its entirety in Genesis (11:27-25:11), you can readily see what I mean. In the above passage, he let Lot choose whatever land Lot wanted, so that there would be enough room for both of their flocks and herds, and to end the quarreling between their servants. Lot chose what was then the best land for himself. And then God gave the above promise that every direction Abraham could see would end up being his.

God called Abraham out of a culture of idolatry, to simply trust God and God’s promises. He promised Abraham land, and descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky, and the sand on the seashore. Abraham believed God, and God credited that to him as righteousness.

But Abraham was not perfect. He and his wife Sarah both struggled since they were now old, and had no child, no son to be the heir. The general tenor of his life was an unwavering faith, just as Paul says in Romans 4. But we can see that along the way he and Sarah tried to help God fulfill the promise. Of course to no avail, though a son did come out of it: Ishmael, through Hagar a servant given to Abraham by Sarah for that purpose. God would bless Ishmael too, but not in the blessing of the promise God had given to Abraham. Finally 25 years after the initial promise, Isaac was born. And more follows.

We read in the New Testament that we’re to walk in the footsteps of our father of faith, Abraham (Romans 4). Which seems to me a major point of the Abraham narrative in Genesis and of the passage quoted above. As Abraham learned to walk by faith in what humanly speaking was an impossible situation, so we are to walk in that very same faith, as a way of life for us. Through everything, come what may. In and through Jesus.

God’s promise of anxiety-overcoming peace

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:6-7

Like so many things in the Christian life, the directive here is radical and goes beyond our understanding of things, or what we might do left to ourselves. Off and on I’ve struggled with anxiety. Oftentimes I’ve more or less given up, and just learned to live with it.

It could be translated that we’re not to worry or be anxious, either one. There are few things more debilitating than anxiety. It seems to eat at the core of our being, and take the heart out of life, so that what we do is a mechanical grind. When we’re anxious, we’re failing to trust and rest in God’s provision for us in Christ.

This Scripture probably is helping us both to avoid anxiety or worry, or know how to deal with it when it strikes us. We’re told in every situation what to do. The same thing: with thanksgiving, pray. Prayer, petition, and thanksgiving. Specific requests to God with thanksgiving.

I know that in the past I’ve done this even in a poor way, and found the promise to be true. It’s an act of faith. And God does come through.

Sometimes it can be particularly difficult. I’ve gone through days into weeks in the past, basically not realizing this peace, surely because I failed to follow this directive. Likely a part of the spiritual warfare all believers experience (Ephesians 6:10-20). The enemy knows that anxiety is one way to trip us humans and strip us of God’s peace. And they know our weak, vulnerable places, as well.

The answer in the passage quoted above is simple. We’re to do it. God will help us through whatever we’re facing. But he wants to do so while we have his peace. The peace of God which goes beyond any understanding we have. That is our call and privilege in and through Jesus.

accepting limitations

I think Christianity and faith seems to bring with it a tendency toward an idealization in which this and that are to be just so, or at least there’s growth toward the good, what’s best. With that comes an expectation which sets one up for discouragement when it’s not met, or regularly falls short.

I think what ends up being the case is not the idea of having expectations at all, but misplaced expectations. We don’t understand God’s promises in Christ and how they work out in real life. I believe an important aspect of that ends up being our need to accept limitations. Limitations in ourselves, in others. And with that, we need to understand and accept our weaknesses along with that of others.

I want to be careful here. I’m not referring to out and out sin such as people giving into this or that which they know is wrong. Yet at the same time, if we are caught up in any sin, God’s promise in Jesus along with his promises in Scripture are for us as well.

Does this mean we expect less from God? Hopefully not. Actually it can mean that we understand better how God works. Through weakness, brokenness, even failure. Through our ongoing keen realization of our need for him. Through the way of Jesus which is the way of weakness in taking up one’s cross and following (2 Corinthians 13).

But let’s not kid ourselves. It’s anything but easy to accept weakness. And when we do so there’s always the danger of rationalizing sin, excusing ourselves when we do. What I’m referring to here is more of an existential awareness that at times, maybe much of the time for some of us, we will not be in any kind of on top of the world experience. And problems will come and sometimes mount in number and intensity.

We must not simply throw in the towel and give up. Though if we do we need to remember God is present for us then as well. All of this is the opportunity for us to push deeper into God and God’s provision for us in and through Jesus.

to know Christ’s love

For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.

Ephesians 3:14-21

I like traditional church liturgy, and even crucifixes (and I like the empty cross) because they remind me of the center of our faith: the good news in Jesus. It is through Jesus’s Incarnation, death and resurrection, and the ascension which follows with the pouring out of the Spirit, that we have forgiveness of sins and new life in him. Jesus’s death and resurrection at the heart of that. And in that we can come to know the love of God. A love that is beyond description, as the text says, surpassing knowledge. We shouldn’t neglect Jesus’s teaching and ministry during his earthly life, either, quite formative for us in this.

But where do we begin so that we can hopefully know this love in the way this text says? It began with Paul’s prayer or we could say by extension the prayers of those who follow Paul’s example, a prayer for the church. Evidently Paul had come to know this love for himself, and he was here praying that the church would know it as well.

It’s a prayer to the Father, that out of his glorious riches he would strengthen his people with power through his Spirit in their inner being, so that Christ might dwell in their hearts by faith. It seems to indicate that one’s main impulse for life is no longer themselves, but Christ (Galatians 2:20). We are still ourselves, but ourselves as God meant us to be. Of course this is not something we arrive to overnight, or fully in this life. It’s a transformation beginning now and continuing as a process in growth in Christ-likeness.

Christ dwelling in our hearts through faith is the result of the Spirit’s work in us. From that we’re rooted and established in love. By the way, in passing I want to point out that this seems by the text to be a communal matter, one might say, even endeavor. Church is at the heart of the letter to the Ephesians, we could say the universal church played out in local churches. Which is why I prefer smaller churches. But if one is part of a mega church like my wife and I are now, then you need to plug into a small group. Too often in the United States, and I would think western culture at large, especially European in its roots, we’re more than content to remain in isolation as individuals. But the spiritual life isn’t lived that way: it’s in union with Christ and therefore in the Triune communion, and therefore in union with all who are “in Christ.”

But back to the point: We’re to be rooted and established in love. We live in God’s love in Christ. That is to impact and animate us. We love, because God first loved us. That is where we begin and remain. But through that we’re to experience so much more. Or maybe better put, know so much more. We make much of experience, impacted by the romantic era in ways that are not altogether healthy. Know includes experience, but in a sense goes beyond that so that it transcends or is not dependent on our experience. Through thick and thin we’re to “know” this love of Christ which paradoxically is beyond human knowledge, a gift to us from God by the Spirit.

And the result? To know together as God’s people the fullness of Christ’s love. And Paul is descriptive (or whoever wrote the letter under Paul’s direction): it’s width, length, height, and depth. With the result that we’re filled to the measure of the fullness of God.

And then the great promise that God is able to do this beyond what we can ask or imagine. And through it he would receive glory through the church and through Jesus Christ through all ages. Good to know the context of this great promise. It is about knowing Christ’s love. The heart of our existence, and ultimately the heart of all things. Through the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Something we need to be aware of and aspire to, in and through Jesus.