God’s beloved

In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove upon him. And a voice came from the heavens, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

Mark 1:9-11; NRSVue

Jesus went out again beside the sea; the whole crowd gathered around him, and he taught them. As he was walking along, he saw Levi son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax-collection station, and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he got up and followed him.

And as he sat at dinner in Levi’s house, many tax collectors and sinners were also sitting with Jesus and his disciples, for there were many who followed him. When the scribes of the Pharisees saw that he was eating with sinners and tax collectors, they said to his disciples, “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” When Jesus heard this, he said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician but those who are sick; I have not come to call the righteous but sinners.”

Mark 2:13-17; NRSVue

I think I would put The Cure somewhere on the top ten of the books which have most influenced me, or at least most intrigued me. It is a most interesting read, whether or not you agree with it entirely. It’s really not meant to be a book to convince you of this and that doctrine, in spite of somewhat copious although often helpful endnotes. It is a story of the difference between living in grace and religion*, the latter involving unrelenting standards to measure up to with necessary masking to hide the fact that inevitably no one does. The place of grace is entirely different, not only no mask wearing, but hair let down with many tears. People are real, themselves, and completely accepted. Unlike the place of religion where you are accepted on many conditions.

The difference is what the above passages are getting at: the love of God from the God who is love. God has God’s heart set on all humanity, really intent in restoring all of creation, and especially fallen and broken humanity. That is more than evidenced in God becoming flesh meaning human in the Son Jesus through the Incarnation. Completely identifying with us, right where we live with all of its challenges along with our (not his) failure, but with the laughter and joy as well. But it seems especially identifying with those who are mourning, the poor, the oppressed, the downcast, the marginalized. Bringing the healing that can only come from God, healing being synonymous with salvation in New Testament terminology.

If there’s one place I especially feel uncomfortable, it’s with religious folks. Unfortunately you have to add to that nowadays those who are caught up in the tribalism of this or that political persuasion. But lots of those folks are religious, which just becomes either a new rule added on, or understanding among them that it’s simply that way no questions asked.

In contrast to that, God accepts everyone warts and all, just the way we are with all of our blindness, failure and sin. And unlike religion, people are fully accepted in the beloved one, Christ. Christ came that we might through him find our true identity and ultimately our true selves in the reality we are included in with him through faith and baptism, so that we may come to realize that we too are indeed God’s beloved, God’s much-loved ones.

In the end we’re told that God will be “all in all” (1 Corinthians 15) accomplished in and through Christ in his life and reconciling death, so that everyone will be included. It will be a most happy ending, even if it takes some time to get there. No one will be left behind, no one left out. Not even the sad religious folk who somehow imagine themselves better and look down on everyone else (see Gregory of Nyssa, George MacDonald, etc.). Not that judgment and severe judgment isn’t in the mix, because it most necessarily is, but not a rejecting, obliterating fire, but a purging, redeeming fire. But this is another subject entirely.

But the point is that we need to see that “in Christ” we are indeed God’s beloved. That we don’t have to measure up to this and that which other people, even churches might want to impose on us. No, we are not rejected, but God’s children.  In and through Jesus.

*Religion in the sense of something fabricated by humans rather than received from God and regularly practiced and lived out in response to that (example: James 1:26-27).

accenting giving thanks (yes, for answers, but) no matter what

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

Scripture after scripture mentions giving thanks to God for the many blessings God bestows. One other passage might intimate this (Ephesians 5:20), but the above passage for sure tells us to give thanks not just for what God has done for us, but in anticipation of the good God will do regardless of the circumstance we face.

This is uplifting, just the help we need as far as our part goes when we thank God when something either not so good, or maybe not good at all comes our way. Instead of being down in the mouth, and perhaps cursing under our breath along with complaint after complaint, we’re instead looking to God the good God will do in it.

Of course that doesn’t make bad things good at all. It doesn’t mean that somehow God miraculously makes that so. But that God works for good in everything (Romans 8:28) and somehow redeems everything, even our wrongdoings. But we’re never to give thanks in the midst of our sin. That would be seriously misreading this passage. “In all circumstance” takes for granted that we’re endeavoring to walk in good faith, following our Lord.

So next time and times, since this will happen likely multiple times each day, but next time something either bad, or not really good happens, let’s give thanks to God. For the strength and help God gives us to see us through the situation, as well as for the good God will bring out of it.

In and through Jesus.

glimpses of light, but the darkness not lost

We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.

Romans 8:28

When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to the one who put all things in subjection under him, so that God may be all in all.

1 Corinthians 15:28

Scripture is loaded with stories which can make you wonder. If we read the Bible as though it were flat, then we put it together like a jig saw puzzle. And what is often said is that one part is as legitimate as another, for example Jesus’s words not to resist evil and to turn the other cheek do not at all cancel out the violence in the Hebrew scriptures, but both somehow are equally legitimate, though inevitably contradictions won’t stand. Jesus himself did not allow such, rebuking his disciples for suggesting fire should come down and destroy the Samaritans who did not receive him, telling them they didn’t know by what spirit they were speaking.

There are things both in Scripture and in our lives which are broken and need redeemed. And that is not an easy process. But God is faithful, and we can actually help the process and reduce the pain and trouble if we commit ourselves as well as hold on to faith in God, that God will see everything through to the good end in Christ. That is not unlike the messes we see in Scripture, even including arguably either the accommodations or mistaken notions or projections we find there about God, what God is doing.

Everything really needs to be understood in term of the God who is love, who makes that love known which we find everywhere in Scripture, but is revealed fully only in Christ, and Christ on the cross. We have to read and see all of Scripture in that light, as well as all of our life in the same light as well. There are inevitable difficulties from simply living in the world, as well as from our own errors, mistakes, missteps, sins. God is out to redeem all.

What we need to do is to hang on by faith in spite of what we’re going through, what our experience is. To the extent that we do, we’ll begin to at least sense, and hopefully begin to experience what is the end of God’s purpose in Christ: complete, unmitigated love, with nothing whatsoever able to withstand that ultimately, and if we can only trust God, what we’ll more and more experience here and now, the same reality which will be ours and all of creation forever in the redemption and reconciliation of all things in Christ.

Something we not only look forward to, but begin to experience now, even with the inevitable even in part necessary difficulties we go through. In and through Jesus.

*nothing* separates us from God’s love in Jesus

Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written,

“For your sake we are being killed all day long;
we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.”

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Romans 8:35-39

I believe a passage somewhere in the Apocrypha along with the Book of Common Prayer tells us that God loves all God has made. I think within an orthodox reading of Scripture (see Gregory of Nyssa) you can make a case for a Christian universalism, which by grace always involves faith, repentance and change. I am open to such a view myself.

But we who are “in Christ” by grace through faith, along with baptism get to experience this love firsthand, though I would never say that others don’t experience God’s love. But Christ is central to this love being given and experienced by humankind.

It’s important to accept what amounts to the truth that God loves all. In Scripture when it seems to indicate otherwise, we can say that we need to read and understand that Scripture in light of Christ. The writer along with the Israelites or whoever was involved may have been mistaken. God does hate what violates love, but that doesn’t mean that God doesn’t love all who are made in God’s image, and in some sense all of God’s creation. God in Christ is out to redeem and reconcile all things to God’s self, as well as to each other in proper relations.

But all of this, or the basic truth needs to get through to us, not just into our heads, but in our experience. We need to understand that God loves us in spite of ourselves, our many mistakes, missteps, even plain wrongdoings. That God is always present for us with open arms. And in a true sense as close to us as the air we breathe. Nothing at all that we go through as Christ followers can ever separate us from God’s love for us that is in Christ. Oh, that everyone, and I’ll even include myself in that, would step into this and learn to remain there. Whatever other experiences we go through in this life, oh that God’s love in and through Christ might overshadow them all!

In and through Jesus.

when hope is gone

And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three…

1 Corinthians 13:13a

But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, and put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation.

1 Thessalonians 5:8

Hope is a basic of human life. It’s looking forward to good, and more than that, it’s living with the idea that our lives matter, that there’s a good end.

Suicide prevention involves helping people get on track to find hope as in a reason to not end life, to live, that somehow there’s something good about carrying on.

In Scripture hope is included with faith and love. Those of us in the Christian tradition and familiar with Scripture will readily see the importance of faith and love, but hope might not often occur to us, if at all. But there it is, right beside faith and love. So it is important.

Central to hope is that God is working to bring good to all, to the world. Of course we can and do resist God’s working, even when oftentimes we are not conscious of doing so. But God continues that work, nonetheless.

Hope is short, medium, and long term; even with reference to the past in the thought of the redemption of all things, the present so that day to day we can find good, and the future, ultimately in the return of Christ when all is made right and new.

This is not some fantasy, nothing more than in our dreams. But for the real world, with all its difficulties, conundrums and even tragedies. Somehow in the midst of all of that, the hope we find in God is to help us not only survive, but live in the victory of Christ which paradoxically means for us now a resurrected life in the way of death, in the way of the cross, in the true following of Christ. Looking forward to the complete healing to come.

In and through Jesus.

don’t be overrighteous or overwise

In this meaningless life of mine I have seen both of these:

the righteous perishing in their righteousness,
and the wicked living long in their wickedness.
Do not be overrighteous,
neither be overwise—
why destroy yourself?
Do not be overwicked,
and do not be a fool—
why die before your time?
It is good to grasp the one
and not let go of the other.
Whoever fears God will avoid all extremes.[a]

Ecclesiastes 7:15-18

I believe just one of the many devices of the evil one is to get us to think life somehow depends on us, so that unwittingly we begin to do what in our heads we wouldn’t want to do, but in our hearts and lives are all too prone to doing: replace God.

Ecclesiastes is a notoriously difficult book to pin down, and maybe that’s part of not only some of the appeal of the book, but what God wanted from that book for us. To get us to wrestle with something of what the writer (the Teacher, Qoheleth) was wrestling with. Maybe “the Teacher” was making his (or her) writing somewhat nebulous due to his thinking that all is meaningless, rather pointless, fleeting- anyhow.

Note that we’re not being told here to not be righteous or wise. Just not overly so. I take that to suggest that we shouldn’t think all depends on us and on our own righteousness and wisdom. At the same time this passage is not at all telling us that we should throw our righteousness and wisdom by the wayside. Not at all. It’s just that we need to fear God as the writer tells us here. Which I think might point us in the direction that we think and act in the fear of God. That includes a reverential awe and respect, and a trust I believe, as well. We want to trust in God’s righteousness and wisdom to actually impact us and help us have a righteousness and wisdom not warped and therefore of no value or even dangerous by somehow thinking that its our own righteousness and wisdom. We know that Christ Jesus has been made by God to be for us wisdom and righteousness in a redemptive sense, which I think includes impacting our down to earth daily lives (1 Corinthians 1:26-31). What we have from God is both by creation and then new creation in Christ by the Spirit. So we need to learn to be wise and right in dependence on God, not on ourselves.

I think that means we need to say no to our own ongoing urge to take all matters in our own hands as if anything depends on us. Instead we just need to say no, even kick back, relax and enjoy (another theme in Ecclesiastes: God gives the gift, we work hard, and then enjoy). We still hold onto righteousness and wisdom. We need to do it though in a way which honors God’s righteousness and wisdom above our own, our own even being entirely dependent on God’s so that strictly speaking, it’s not our own. Through prayer, prayer and more prayer. Through taking responsibility. And not thinking for a moment that all depends on our righteousness and wisdom. Or else we’ll be violating what the Teacher in Ecclesiastes tells us. In and through Jesus.

for Martin Luther King, Jr. Day: the politics of the good news

When Jesus heard that John had been put in prison, he withdrew to Galilee. Leaving Nazareth, he went and lived in Capernaum, which was by the lake in the area of Zebulun and Naphtali— to fulfill what was said through the prophet Isaiah:

“Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali,
the Way of the Sea, beyond the Jordan,
Galilee of the Gentiles—
the people living in darkness
have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of the shadow of death
a light has dawned.”

From that time on Jesus began to preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”

Mark 4:12-17

This Isaiah-prophesied revelation came to life in Galilee the moment Jesus started preaching. He picked up where John left off: “Change your life. God’s kingdom is here.”

Mark 4:17; MSG

Jesus’s message and proclamation was “the good news of the kingdom” (Matthew 4:23). The gospel is actually political through and through. Of course it’s about our individual salvation as well, but it includes so much more, really everything within God’s creation and human culture. God’s kingdom in King Jesus was coming in, but not in the way that people would naturally anticipate. They wanted in one way or another for God to end Rome’s rule over them. But God saw a much bigger picture, and really an altogether different one. Yes, it was about fulfilling God’s prior promises to them, but in the ways of a costly love which would break down all barriers, creating one new humanity, a beautifully woven mosaic of people groups together (Ephesians 2:11-22).

During this Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, let’s take time to pray and ask God to show us where we are blind and resistant to what God has done, is doing, and will complete in and through King Jesus. And what works God has for us in what God is doing now in this regard (Ephesians 2:10; MSG). In and through Jesus.

coming to terms with an imperfect world

Our days may come to seventy years,
or eighty, if our strength endures;
yet the best of them are but trouble and sorrow,
for they quickly pass, and we fly away.

Psalm 90:10

There is no question that no matter which way you turn in this life, there’s either trouble, or the potential for that. It does seem like so much is stacked against humanity. You have dangers coming just from natural causes, as well as things we’ve cooked up and invented. Health and safety issues. And then there are the many unforeseen issues which beset us, yes, even on a regular basis, it seems.

All that to say that we need to rest in the one certainty in the midst of all that is uncertain, and indeed, the inevitable ongoing trouble that comes our way. God is faithful and is revealed in Jesus. We know that this life is not meant to be the ideal which is precisely why it’s not. There’s a brokenness in the air which permeates everything, waiting to be fixed in the total change when the children of God are revealed at the resurrection of all things (Romans 8:18-23).

Meanwhile though, we lumber along. Learning through this difficulty a trust in God we likely could not have if all was well. In and through Jesus.

in the way of Christ is healing

To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.

“He committed no sin,
and no deceit was found in his mouth.”

When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. “He himself bore our sins” in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; “by his wounds you have been healed.” For “you were like sheep going astray,” but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.

1 Peter 2:21-25

Someone recently told me that only as our wounds are exposed, brought out into the open, can they be healed. I’m referring to inner wounds. I think there’s truth in that. After all, we can’t deal with what hurts us by ignoring it, or just holding it in. Sooner or later that will come out in ways that often are not helpful for others, even for ourselves.

Yes, we need to get everything out in the open before God. See the Psalms for example after example of that. And found in other places throughout Scripture, as well.

Peter’s words by the Holy Spirit actually point us in another direction for our healing. We’re told that we’re to follow Christ’s example in accepting suffering. This was actually written directly to Christian slaves (hit above link). Slavery then was different than what we think of now, in our American context. Yet still certainly an institution brought on by sin, destined not to last, certainly at least not in God’s economy, and God has the last word.

We’re told to do this and then told that we’re healed by Christ’s wounds. Not sure precisely what this means, except that it has to do with our sin problem and the impact that makes on our lives, and on the lives of others.

It is amazing, the impact of sin on us. We’re better off to persevere past whatever sin or fallout from past sin is plaguing us. And we surely do that in part by following what we’re being told here. We have to trust that God is healing us because of Jesus’s suffering, as we walk in the way of that suffering. In and through Jesus.

 

the negative condition of humanity: lost

If there’s one word I would use to sum up the condition humanity is in, I might say lost. Like most things in life it’s more complicated than that. There’s something wonderfully good about humankind. Each person is indeed a gift. But not all is well. There’s something fundamentally wrong.

Lost is the condition humanity is in biblically speaking due to sin. Sin is that which is in violation of God’s will, contrary to God himself, and actually against humanity itself, since we humans are made in God’s image. Because of that, we’re lost from God’s good intention for us.

We remember the biblical account of Adam and Eve being driven from the Garden of Eden into a condition where life would be hard. The ground would be cursed because of sin, everything cursed actually, including humankind itself. Curse in Scripture is the opposite of bless. Its end result is condemnation and death, whereas blessing comes through redemption which brings life.

We are lost on our own. Being made in God’s image, we are left to thinking that there must be more, much more. But we’re at a loss to find it, indeed we can’t find it ourselves. That is why the Bible speaks of the Good Shepherd finding the lost sheep, the woman finding the lost coin, the father rejoicing over the return of his lost, wayward son. We are lost, pure and simple. No rocket science. That’s just the way it is, and the sooner we come to acknowledge that, the better off we’ll be.

God seeks us before we seek God. In fact it’s only because God seeks us in God’s grace in Christ that we would ever turn a glance his way, and hopefully surrender and come running into the arms of the Father. It’s because Jesus himself was willing to be cursed, and lost for us so to speak, feeling forsaken of God on the cross, that we can be found in him, through simple faith in him, and God’s word: that good news. In and through Jesus.