the gospel breaks the color barrier

There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

Galatians 3

Maybe my biggest disappointment with the church as I’ve seen it for the most part, with notable exceptions, is just how monochrome, or segregated most churches are on any given Sunday. It is understandable, yet sad at the same time, in my view. God’s grace covers us, and there’s a history behind it. And it’s not like churches who are white or black want to be segregated. There are different cultures involved, and people are at home in different places.

But the gospel is meant to bring together those who likely would never do so apart from it. What is true concerning Jews and Gentiles being reconciled to God as one body (Ephesians 2:11-22) is also true of all peoples, bringing for example Palestinians and Jews together through the cross, through Jesus’s death, along with blacks and whites, Protestants and Catholics, everyone. The reconciliation to God extends no less to each other through the good news in Jesus, and the Spirit who makes us one in him.

As a witness to the gospel, and the saving power it brings, we need to show the world how we can work through the barriers, whatever they may be. How our unity in God through Jesus by the Spirit in the love of God in Jesus supercedes all distinctions, breaks down all animosities and hostilities, through Christ’s death, and our repentance and faith, and brings the promised healing and shalom. This new world is now present through Christ in his body the church. As a witness to the world, and as part of the salvation we ourselves need, in and through Jesus.

the prayer of examen during difficult times

For it is time for judgment to begin with God’s household; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God?

1 Peter 4

I have been frankly unhappy with the continued tacit and even open endorsement of the Republican nominee’s candidacy for the US Presidency by some Christian leaders. And I’ve accepted as prudent to prayerfully consider recommendations from other Christian leaders to vote for the candidate of the Democratic Party. And Facebook and the media has been caught up in a firestorm.

All of this has given me pause. I’m left wondering, not so much just what we’re caught up in, and where it is going, though considerations over such matters are good, but where my heart and mind is in all of this. Is Jesus really central in this deliberation and exercise of mine? And just what does my reactions to what is going on in the American political scene reveal about me that is not altogether good?

I can’t dig this up myself, even though I need to be attentive to it. I need God’s help, indeed his light to shine on my darkness, so as to reveal what needs confessed, forgiven and cleansed. Of course this is not a once for all exercise, but ongoing. And we need to remember that God’s revelation to us of our darkness is always ultimately uplifting to us, for our good, and to help us be his witnesses.

This is not to put myself or anyone else on some guilt trip. But it provides an occasion and pushes us to come before God in prayer, and ask him to reveal to us anything that is offensive and not pleasing to him. In the tradition of the church what has been called the prayer of examen. And that is always a good thing.

And so that is what I’m hoping to do, as I meditate on scripture and go about my work today (and beyond). Better yet would be to spend some time alone in quietness before God, with this petition and question on our hearts and lips. In the words of the psalmist:

Search me, God, and know my heart;
    test me and know my anxious thoughts.
See if there is any offensive way in me,
    and lead me in the way everlasting.

Psalm 139:23-24

the authenticity we need

Authenticity is very much a staple word nowadays. Being “real” is practically valued above most anything else. And if understood correctly, that thought is helpful. But if not understood correctly, it is not.

What is unhelpful today is a kind of wearing one’s emotions on one’s sleeve approach in which what we ourselves feel and think about something is all that matters. This goes along with the postmodern mood which is a part of our culture. It’s not like what we feel and think doesn’t matter, that’s not the point at all. In fact, before God, and before any good counselor who hopefully is also a true friend, it is good to trust to the point where one can tell all without fear of being condemned, or looked down on and rejected. This is vitally important, and precisely where Job’s friends failed. The kind of authenticity which bears all before God, and appropriately confesses sin to God and to others is highly valued in scripture. “A broken and contrite heart, God does not despise.”

But we in Jesus must not stop with that aspect of authenticity, though neither should we abandon it. The kind of authenticity we need is expressed by James:

Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do.

James 1

The kind of authenticity pressed for here is a life that is not only vulnerable by being open before God, and when appropriate, before others. But a heart sincere and set in trying to be true by grace to living in accord with God’s word. An authenticity in being genuine not only in regard to who we actually are, without pretense, but also a genuineness in seeking to see our lives and God’s revealed will in scripture and in Jesus being brought closer and closer together.

Of course that’s a lifelong process, involving an ongoing brokenness and sorrow of heart over too often falling short. Yet also seeing the Spirit help us to actually grow more and more into Jesus’s likeness to a significant extent by taking in the word, and letting it expose us, then doing something about it.

The authenticity in Jesus that is desirable is one that’s committed to being conformed to the truth of God’s word, and the truth that is in Jesus, whatever the cost, without imagining that one will arrive in this life. And so an important part of that authenticity is an ongoing brokenness before God. Even as we find ourselves in some ways, enough to be encouraged, growing closer to heart and life conformity to God’s will in Jesus.

taking pains to be (and remain) reconciled

Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.

Matthew 5

There are times which try people’s souls. And events as in what people do and fail to do, including the words said. Most of the time we can look past the errors of others, even as we hope they look past our own mistakes and missteps. There are times when for a number of reasons we should hold someone accountable. Jesus said that if a brother or sister sins against you, but repents, we should forgive them, not just the seven times spoken by Peter in his question, but seventy-seven times (or seventy times seven), a hyperbole meaning always. Jesus did say that if our brother or sister sins, we should rebuke them, and if they repent, we should forgive them. So there is an accountability needed which isn’t easy on either side. It’s so much easier to let a lot of things go which actually ought to be addressed. On the other hand, love does cover over a multitude of sins, so there are plenty of things we can let go of, and simply pray about, or not take personally, perhaps seeing past the words to what is really going on in a person’s heart, their struggle. Of course we need wisdom and plenty of it. I get into trouble if I act too much on my own instead of seeking the wisdom from God that I need.

We need to learn to be supersensitive in the right way, by the Spirit toward the other in the way of Jesus in discerning what we should and should not do. And that would include what thoughts we should entertain, and what other thoughts we should summarily dismiss. If we can learn to do that, or to the extent that we can, we’ll avoid major headaches and heartaches, since the Lord won’t let us off the hook over broken or damaged relationships. Of course the peace we’re told to pursue in scripture does not necessarily mean a reconciliation with an offending or offended party, who themselves want no part of a healthy and full reconciliation. In some cases that will be completely impossible. We need discernment in wisdom in these cases, to know what lines to draw, and where to draw them. But by and large there are matters we’ll need to address in regard to others who are offended (or have offended). We do well to do so in a manner which is not about justifying ourselves, but about getting at both the truth and love, together. As we prayerfully attempt to do so, the Lord can honor and bless even our stumbling, halting, yet sincere effort and follow through to address a matter of actual high importance to him, which therefore should be highly important to us. While seeking to avoid such problems in the future when possible. In our life together, the common life in Jesus.

finding root problems, or better solutions

The purposes of a person’s heart are deep waters,
    but one who has insight draws them out.

Proverbs 20:5

And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God.

Philippians 1:9-11

Life might sometimes bring out both the best and the worst in us. Surely at times, God lets us be encouraged, as God’s children, to be able to see something of the progress we’ve made in our spiritual journey in Christ. But at other times, this or that incident might bring out in us something that needs to be addressed as in exposed and healed, so that we can move on, having dealt with that problem as perhaps a besetting sin that needs to be confessed and repented of, so that hopefully we can get beyond that as far as our character formation in Christ goes. Not that such might never come back again.

This takes an openness before God and before others to see whatever is wrong in us exposed, and to find a better course, what really matters, beyond what we’ve clung to for dear life. In the end it is God’s will in the grace and truth of Jesus which really matters. We have to let go of what might be either not helpful in our own tendencies, as well as be open to what is best, what really matters.

For this to occur, we need nothing less than God’s wisdom, to receive such wisdom in answer to prayer (James 1:5), perhaps through the insight of a friend, or simply through our own struggle to understand. We look for truth, and we also look for the way, or a better way. This isn’t easy stuff we can slough through, or perhaps simply dismiss. We need to take seriously what sore spots and deficiencies in ourselves we find. And seek to address such with the truth of God’s word through the help of the Spirit. It ought to be a given, but it helps to have the ongoing mutual commitment of brothers and sisters in Jesus who live in a deep bond of trust and love, and therefore can be open to receiving and giving instruction or counsel when needed.

Part of what we’re to be about in our life in Christ.

the failure of the incomplete, distorted gospel in the face of racism

Chaplain Mike on Internet Monk has a compelling post on the failure of the American church to proclaim and witness to a complete gospel: We’ve Missed the Gospel. That point is exactly what I was thinking in the aftermath of the brutal killing of two African American men by police officers, and then the killing of at least five police officers by a sniper at the end of a peaceful demonstration by African Americans.

Our gospel, the one we proclaim and witness to is not big enough and it’s distorted through our cultural lens. We have emphasized the good news of God’s saving grace in Jesus to us as individuals, in reconciling us to God. That is good and true, but just as important as that is the gospel truth that we are reconciled to each other, across racial and ethnic divides, and that this good news is proclaimed to those who are enemies, to bring them into the circle of God’s grace and love in and through Jesus.

If we fail to speak against the racism of our day, we fail to represent the Christ whose name we bear, and our proclamation and witness to the good news in him is tragically incomplete. We need to go out of our way to address the evils of our day, all of them, not just one or two we might see as the worst. Racism is as degrading and dehumanizing as any of the rest of sins we may decry. The grace of God in Jesus through Jesus’s death and resurrection is what is needed to bring reconciliation through forgiveness of sins, and new life lived out in communities of love, the kind of love that is committed to the hard work which is involved in that. And as one friend reminded me yesterday, addressing what is endemic in all of us. If any of us think we’re entirely free of racism at least in terms of some sort of prejudice, then we need to think again.

Meanwhile we grieve and mourn with the families of the black men, and with the families of the police officers. We pray for healing, and for a new day when in and through Jesus our differences will not only not divide us, but will be celebrated. As we learn to live out more and more what has been given to us through the gospel, and what we are in him: one family united forever in the love of the Father through the Son by the Holy Spirit.

turning setbacks into improvements

We are human, and we will make mistakes, and plenty of them. Sometimes though, we know better, but give into weaknesses. And then we can pay a pretty steep price depending on the gravity of the offense. Hopefully it’s not the great sin that David refers to in Psalm 51.

Whether it’s simply a learning process due to my limitedness as a human, or even if I have given into sin, I want good somehow to come out of it. Again, depending on the degree as well as what the particular offense is, there will be a certain amount of bad consequences that come out of sin, maybe largely imperceptible to us. We can surely ask God to at least counteract such consequences with good, and that is where the thought of this post comes in today, with a bit of a different slant.

I can look back on my life and see growth in some areas, and I’ve been wanting to see a breakthrough in one key area for me, the beginnings of which I think I’ve been stepping by faith into recently, even now. But I want to do better yet. In this is the need to discern God’s will, for sure. And part of that is to accept growth in incremental ways. We know we haven’t arrived, but we’re on our way to the goal, doing better.

To keep pushing toward the better, and the ideal in Christ, setbacks can help us. We need to keep in mind the lessons they bring in perhaps a Proverbs-like kind of wisdom, but not settle simply for knowing or understanding more, but for the life that such wisdom should give. We want to enter into that life more and more, the life to the full (and overflowing) that is in Jesus.

And so that is a big part of what I’m thinking about nowadays when I think about my own Christian spiritual formation. To learn from my mistakes, repent of my sins and be willing to take the more difficult path, and to be further ahead due to the setback experienced. The devil’s ploy being turned into the Lord’s play in conforming me along with others in him more and more into his image. That we might live increasingly in God’s will to his glory.