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.

 

love always hopes

Love….always hopes

1 Corinthians 13

The description of love in 1 Corinthians 13 is certainly classic, understandably used at weddings as a standard to learn how love carries itself and acts. In context, it is about relationships in the body of Christ, the church, although it certainly carries over to all relationships. It’s like Paul is saying that love is to be the motive behind everything we do. So that regardless of what else we do, no matter how great it is, it’s worthless without love, as this “love chapter” makes clear.

Are we living in love, are our thoughts, attitudes and actions, including words- done in love? Good questions. And considering this, including the entire description of love as given in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 ought to make us both aware of how we fall short, and of what our goal should be. The description is relational in nature, in fact it’s about human relationships. One could say that it’s descriptive of God’s love to us, and there’s surely plenty of truth in that, though in its original context, it’s to help a church which was proud and divisive, and essentially thinking and acting like the world.

God’s wrath is shorthand for God’s judgment. Even when anger is clearly a part of it, God’s wrath is always motivated by love; love is at the heart of it. How that plays out in ultimate, final terms is something theologians go back and forth on. What is certain is what characterizes God and all that God does is good, and is done out of love. That should be no surprise since “God is love” (1 John). Love marks everything about God, and all that God does. It should be no surprise that we struggle with all of this, given the fact that because we’re sinners, loving in that way is not a part of who we are. We can see it’s good, but in our brokenness, we at best fall short of it. As Rich Mullins wrote:

We have a love that’s not as patient as Yours was
Still we do love now and then

Hard to Get

However in our ongoing repentance and awareness of falling short, we can be growing more and more into this ideal of Christ-likeness. And by the Spirit of God, I really believe that in some true measure we can genuinely possess these qualities as described in 1 Corinthians 13, true gifts from God to us, in and through Jesus.

And so we go on, needing this love ourselves, but no matter what we experience, endeavoring to live out this love to others, in the life that is ours together, in and through Jesus.

beauty in brokenness

Our society doesn’t embrace brokenness. Somehow it needs to be fixed, and the sooner the better. The leading candidate of one party for the upcoming presidential election is popular in part because he would not only never acknowledge such, but doesn’t believe in it. But Jesus did. Even if some of us, and even some churches might to some extent get caught up in something of an unbroken superiority complex.

Give me the real, the human, the honest and suffering person, and there you will find someone who not only can be helped, but who more often than not enters into a beauty that is beyond them. Simply to be honest and reject all masks is beauty enough. There is a person I know who is up there in years, and supposedly has the cognitive ability of a two or three year old, and while I may not doubt that, I think assessing this person is more complicated than that. And even though she may not be pretty to look at, as the world sees it, I find her to be one of the most beautiful people I know, because she radiates and lives in the childlikeness which the Lord holds dear. “Except you change, and become like little children, you will never enter into the kingdom of heaven.” And in our brokenness and humility, something of the greatest of all beauty can begin to break through: the beauty of the Lord.

Part of the difficulty in this condition is that although we’re close to being in rhyme with heaven, we are also close to being in rhyme with hell (Michael Card). I can find myself there a number of times everyday. Pushed onto that side for whatever reason. So that I realize I need more of the Lord’s work in me to overcome that. Perhaps too little in my eyes, and at least largely hidden from others most of the time, but important in God’s eyes, and as we learn to see more and more with God’s eyes, it becomes more important in our eyes as well.

Yes, we need a broken and contrite, humbled, penitent heart, because we indeed are broken. The ones most broken are those who don’t believe they are. But brokenness can be beautiful, when before the Lord we acknowledge such, and his beauty begins to be seen through forgiveness and cleansing, and even in the midst of our struggle and weakness and even failure. It is certainly not us we want others to see, but only the Lord.

God meets us where we’re at

On Sunday, Father Michael Cupp talked about the story all of us who were raised in church know well, about “Jacob’s ladder,” the dream Jacob had at Bethel, the name he gave to that place afterward, which means, house of God. Angels were going up and down a ladder set on earth and going up to heaven. God promises the blessing given to Abraham and Isaac. After which Jacob so to speak (my own words now, I think) seeks to strike a bargain with God. God is making himself known to Jacob at least in unusual terms here in keeping with his covenant with Abraham. And Jacob is responding in terms of self-interest, but with a commitment to something more than that if God comes through in answering his request.

Then Jacob made a vow, saying, “If God will be with me and will watch over me on this journey I am taking and will give me food to eat and clothes to wear so that I return safely to my father’s household, then the Lord will be my God and this stone that I have set up as a pillar will be God’s house, and of all that you give me I will give you a tenth.”

Genesis 28:20-22

As Father Michael pointed out, when you read of a vow in scripture, most often it spells trouble. In this case though, as he went on to say, God was gracious in meeting Jacob where he was. Later Jacob became Israel, probably meaning, “he struggles with God” (Genesis 32:28), and was a worshiper of God (Genesis 47:28-31Hebrews 11:21).

This should encourage us in regard to ourselves and to others. When we come to God in faith, God accepts us where we are, but God doesn’t leave us there. And as Father Michael pointed out from the gospel reading (Luke 13:1-9), God does everything he can to make us fruitful, and patiently waits. By faith we have to receive and live in what God has done and is doing. This should encourage us if we’re not seeing the “much fruit” (John 15:5,8) that is promised. It will come. We must remain in the true vine, Jesus, his words remaining in us, and as Luke 13 points out, repent of and away from our own ways. God is gracious, and in meeting with us, will change us over time, so that the fruit that is borne will last, to the glory and praise of God (John 15:8,16).

forgiving others

At our Ash Wednesday service we read prescribed passages, Father Michael including the verses in between the sections of Matthew 6. In keeping with one major theme of Ash Wednesday, forgiveness of sins and reconcilation, Father Michael impressed upon us our need to forgive others. He noted that having been raised in the evangelical tradition (true of all of us present, with himself), we were strong on the reconcilation of the world, or more prescisely in our theology, individual sinners to God, but we weren’t as good at applying the theology of reconcilation to each other. The passage he emphasized here is our Lord’s words after the Lord’s Prayer:

For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.

Matthew 6:14-15

Father Michael challenged us this Lent to focus on forgiving someone we might still be holding something against. Our Lord’s words here certainly are not in keeping with some of the popular theology present. We think we’re forgiven period, as long as we are reconciled to God. But that very reconciliation means that we’re reconciled to each other in Christ as well, that is to our brothers and sisters in him. And that we live as those who would be reconciled even to our enemies.

I am aware of what I consider a situation in one relationship which is not entirely closed, though the other person might think so. For me a key to forgiveness is living insofar as that’s possible, in the reconcilation of God in Christ which means a reconciliation with each other. Another key word on this from the same Sermon on the Mount is found in Matthew 5:23-24 (and see the immediate context, including in the link):

“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.

This is not easy, and we struggle with it at times. But the same grace which forgave our sins is the grace by which we are to forgive each other’s sins. We may need to work through a process of acknowledging our guilt, because forgiveness of real sins is what’s being talked about here. Oftentimes we simply choose to ignore something, since “love covers over a multitude of sins” (1 Peter). But other things may well need to be talked through. While we all have work to do on our character in and through God’s grace in Jesus, full reconciliation to each other should be immediate. I am referring to normal situations. There are those relationships with which we must proceed with wisdom, for example one who may still fall into patterns of abusing others. But insofar as it depends on us, we should be fully given to forgiveness and reconcilation with them in and through our reconcilation with God in Christ.

Not always easy. Something I want to be praying and thinking about during this Lent.