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.

taking an inventory of one’s life

This will be my third visit to you. “Every matter must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.” I already gave you a warning when I was with you the second time. I now repeat it while absent: On my return I will not spare those who sinned earlier or any of the others, since you are demanding proof that Christ is speaking through me. He is not weak in dealing with you, but is powerful among you. For to be sure, he was crucified in weakness, yet he lives by God’s power. Likewise, we are weak in him, yet by God’s power we will live with him in our dealing with you.

Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you—unless, of course, you fail the test? And I trust that you will discover that we have not failed the test. Now we pray to God that you will not do anything wrong—not so that people will see that we have stood the test but so that you will do what is right even though we may seem to have failed. For we cannot do anything against the truth, but only for the truth. We are glad whenever we are weak but you are strong; and our prayer is that you may be fully restored. This is why I write these things when I am absent, that when I come I may not have to be harsh in my use of authority—the authority the Lord gave me for building you up, not for tearing you down.

2 Corinthians 13:1-10

“Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you—unless, of course, you fail the test?” These words from the Apostle Paul to the Corinthian church echo down the corridors of time all the way to us. 2 Corinthians was written in large part to get the Corinthian church back on track, as many were being influenced by false teachers within the church. We may think we live in a different day and age, but if we pay closer attention, we’ll know better. 

One of the big problems we face is the same problem that church faced: we fail to take with sufficient seriousness the message of God’s word, the exact teaching. And when we do that, there is a rationale behind it probably that makes sense to us at the time, and we’re carried away into something other than God’s will.

It is crucial to pay close attention to God’s word and to our own lives, both. The message and teaching of God’s word is meant to impact our lives, no less. But in order for that to happen, we need to prayerfully go over our lives, especially being attentive to what God might be wanting to teach us now while also being open to how we might better process the past as we receive God’s redemptive healing. The point here is that we need to examine ourselves, of course to see if we’re in the faith, yes. And also to understand so as to truly practice our faith day to day in every circumstance so that we might not only recognize Christ in us, but that others may as well. In and through Jesus.

 

 

“Paul, a slave of Christ Jesus”

Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God—

Romans 1:1

The Greek word δοῦλος, translated “servant” in some English translations, might be better translated “slave,” though slavery in modern times is not exactly equivalent to slavery in biblical times, at least there’s a general difference. Bill Mounce has a helpful definition:

In the NT a person owned as a possession for various lengths of times (Hebrew slaves no more than seven years, Gentile slaves without time limit), of lower social status than free persons or masters; slaves could earn or purchase their freedom

A male slave, or servant, of various degrees, Mt. 8:9, et al. freq.; a servitor, person of mean condition, Phil. 2:7; fem. δούλη, a female slave; a handmaiden, Lk. 1:38, 48; Acts 2:18; δοῦλος, used figuratively, in a bad sense, one involved in moral or spiritual thraldom, Jn. 8:34; Rom. 6:17, 20; 1 Cor. 7:23; 2 Pet. 2:19; in a good sense, a devoted servant or minister, Acts 16:17; Rom. 1:1; one pledged or bound to serve, 1 Cor. 7:22; 2 Cor. 4:5

We of course were bought by Christ’s blood on the cross, redeemed from slavery to sin and unrighteousness to be slaves to God and to righteousness. We find freedom in this slavery from what once bound us so that we can live according to God’s will, and not our own. But this is never coercive, which might explain in part why it is often translated “servant.” There is a perfect freedom in this. Either way actually, we’re doing what we want to do. As slaves to sin (Romans 6), we want to sin, but find that it is enslaving and debilitating, indeed self-destructive. But as servants/slaves of Christ, we’re finding our way into what God intended for us in the first place. And in that we find rest, peace and contentment. But on this side, and especially given our tendency to drift back, it often feels difficult and confining. To be a slave of Christ ends up meaning that we do what Christ did, take the way of the cross and follow. In so doing we end up denying ourselves and doing what left to ourselves we would never do, at least not with the same motive and heart attitude. In and through Jesus.

 

loss

Loss is a part of life. In games, yes. But more seriously loss of spouse, marriage, child; job, career, dream; friends; reputation, status, opportunity. You name it.

Loss in life can make one jaded. You don’t trust others; you know they won’t accept you because you won’t, you can’t measure up. And this is a world often bereft of grace. But sadly it seems all too oftentimes that even the church isn’t grace-filled. Grace meaning acceptance as human beings and individuals into a fellowship/communion of truth and love.

I think one has to lick one’s wounds and go on. You have to find a church that does seek to uncompromisingly live in God’s grace. This is messy since we’re all a mess. None of us have it all together, and we will at times fail at each other’s expense. Hopefully we’re not referring to major failures, but sin is sin. It divides us, and if we let it, apart from God’s grace, it conquers us. Confession of sins and forgiveness and cleansing always available to us in Jesus.

Not only do we need to find a church that is faithful as a witness to the gospel, but we also need to plug into a small group in which we can pray for each other, help where needed, and hold each other accountable.

And we need to remain in the word, in Scripture, ourselves. Loss occurs in everyone’s life, and sometimes significant loss can seem to mark us, that we are a failure. That we didn’t live up to others’ expectations, who never knew us in the first place. Or for that matter, far more seriously, the Lord’s expectations.

There may be plenty of truth in that, indeed there’s some, but in Christ there’s always and forever God’s grace offering forgiveness and new life. Life out of death. Redemption from “determinism” or the inevitable, from the addiction one can’t break free of.

And there’s restoration. To the God-given special place for each one of us, helping us find and settle into the goodness God has for us in the good life and good works given to us. In and through Jesus.

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.

the unreal real world

“Get a life,” we sometimes think, in our own words perhaps, but when we view others who seem self-destructive, and on their path, destructive of others. Not to mention all the conflict and strife in the world, with cruel despots in power in too many places. It’s all quite real, the reality in which we live.

But it’s not at all the reality that God intended. In creation, God made everything “good” and in the end after he had created humanity it was all “very good” (Genesis 1). God’s blessing was on everything, with his full blessing contingent on whether or not humankind, that is Adam and Eve would be obedient to the only prohibition God made, that they should not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Whether or not this is symbolic or literal, the point is that Adam and Eve (humankind) had the choice of trusting God, in God’s goodness and word, or in ultimately being left to themselves, losing their so-called innocence, more like the wisdom and knowledge God was ready to pour on them. And instead knowing good and evil in their experience in a way God never intended. When Eve ate of the fruit of that forbidden tree, then Adam, their eyes were opened in a way God never intended. For the first time they felt shame and wanted to hide from each other as well as from God (Genesis 3).  And humankind has never recovered.

We live in the world as it is, not as we would like it to be, and that includes ourselves, who we are. Neither we nor the world has arrived, for sure. Instead, in biblical theological terms, we’re fallen and broken. It’s a mistake to think that somehow through the means of this present time, we can arrive to an idyllic world. It’s also equally an error to think that excuses humankind for not striving for a better world in which love for neighbor, for everyone is taken seriously. But evil has to be dealt with, sometimes in no uncertain terms.

We in Jesus have begun to live in the real world as God intended. Although it seems incremental, and sometimes all but lost in its already present / not yet completed state, nevertheless it’s as undeniable as the breath we breathe. Sometimes we’re left with just knowing intellectually, we know not why experientially, but based on faith in Christ and his historical resurrection from the dead. Other times, the experience of God’s love poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit makes life seem more than worthwhile as God’s righteousness, peace and joy (Romans 14:17-18) becomes the place in which we live.

So we in Jesus live as those of another realm in this realm. As lights in a dark world, citizens of heaven, partakers of the new creation, longing for and looking forward to the redemption of all things. In and through Jesus.