what’s our condition?

“The Holy Spirit spoke the truth to your ancestors when he said through Isaiah the prophet:

“‘Go to this people and say,
“You will be ever hearing but never understanding;
you will be ever seeing but never perceiving.”
For this people’s heart has become calloused;
they hardly hear with their ears,
and they have closed their eyes.
Otherwise they might see with their eyes,
hear with their ears,
understand with their hearts
and turn, and I would heal them.’

Acts 28:25b-27

It’s a scary thought, but we’re not above developing a hard heart or seared conscience (1 Timothy 4:2). When darkness seems light, and what is bad seems good (Isaiah 5:20). I think we’re there to a large extent in our society and world today, although it’s surely nothing new except in the forms it is taking. There does seem to be a sea change in terms of morality. A popular idea is that as long as it doesn’t hurt someone else, whatever one does is fine. But that fails to take into account the truth that sin harms us, and through that harm, ends up harming others. Of course nowadays sin is thought to be an outdated concept, just like good and evil. God is not in all our thoughts (Psalm 10:4), and that explains the condition we’re in.

Christians are not exempt. We’re told that we’re to hold on to faith and a good conscience, otherwise our faith might be shipwrecked (1 Timothy 1:19).

There is recovery of sight for the blind, and hearing for the deaf through Christ. He can open our eyes and ears, so that we might hear his voice and follow. And have a spiritual aptitude we can develop and grow in through the Spirit and the word. Christians need to show the way, and we do so in love for God and our neighbor, and in faithfulness to the gospel in our own lives, so that what we do and say can help others. As we are helped ourselves in and through Jesus.

 

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Christ’s descent into creation and death

Today, what in church tradition is called Holy Saturday, we in part remember our Lord’s finished work in dying on the cross for our salvation and the salvation of the world, the burial on the Sabbath, a Sabbath rest. Christ descended in becoming human and then further in dying the most despicable death: that of the cross.

In becoming human, Christ did what humans do: he died. And in so doing he shared their death. And further, Christ’s death forever changed death through both what his death accomplished, and the full vindication of that in his resurrection from death.

In what is often considered the resurrection passage of Scripture, 1 Corinthians 15, Paul tells us that through the good news of Christ’s death, burial and resurrection, death is no longer the fearsome enemy it once was:

“Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O death, is your sting?”

The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Christ became one of us, and then in his death nullifies the sentence placed on humankind because of sin. In so doing he relegated the enemy death to something that for the believer becomes like a passageway into life, and spells death’s ultimate doom. Because of Christ we need no longer fear death:

Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.

Paul makes it clear that apart from Christ, all that matters is this life, that death is the end of it all. But because of Christ we know death is not the end. Christ himself in entering death put it on the end road, and even uses death to bring life now and ultimately in the resurrection to come to all who believe and therefore follow.

 

 

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.

the danger of relying on feelings

Above all else, guard your heart,
for everything you do flows from it.

Proverbs 4:24

The Hebrew word translated “heart” here refers to both thinking and feelings, to the entire inner person. We’re told here to guard it above all else. This seems to me to suggest a discipline that refuses to let up. I notice two extremes in my life which I would like to avoid. One is when all seems well and from that I can go off on this or that, getting carried away in ways which aren’t well enough controlled. The other extreme is probably more what I’ve been accustomed to: being dead or overcome with negative feelings, then choosing to ignore them and rely on rational thought with the danger of running roughshod over anything and everything. The self-control that comes from the Holy Spirit can help us navigate and find good throughout all the fluctuations of our inner life.

To much of the world, “if it feels good, do it.” You do whatever comes naturally, whatever that is. That really doesn’t work well unfortunately, because we’re amiss or at least easily led astray even by what in itself is alright and good. This passage suggests that we’re to discipline ourselves in watching over our thoughts and emotions. What we do comes from what we are inside. God’s Spirit helps us both in our thoughts and feelings. It’s not at all like they’re unimportant. And we’re involved in the process. We aren’t just carried around as automatons, but we are completely involved in this walk of life. And part of that is to guard ourselves inwardly so that outwardly we might live lives pleasing to God for the good of others. In and through Jesus.

in this rubble

We heard of the terrible, heart breaking tragedy of a young mother who struggled with mental illness, first shooting her children, an eight year old girl who was a good reader, a rambunctious six year old girl, and a two year old boy who was a smiler, before taking her own life. A year ago she had sought help for mental illness.

We live in a world of heart breaking tragedy. It usually happens on less dramatic levels, but telling in lasting ways for those involved. I can make no sense out of it. There is a part of me which wants to question God like the prophets of old, and other places we find in Scripture such as the Psalms and Job.

It is a sad fact of the matter that we live in a world in which there is insanity with unspeakably horrific consequences. There’s no escape from that. Common grace, called such because God gives it to all humanity keeps it from being worse.

I can only lament over such tragedy. And at the same time believe that God is somehow present through it all.

Pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our consciences, but shouts in our pains. It is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.

C. S. Lewis

I can only go back to God and to the cross of Christ as the hope through which I carry on and live. That somehow in the end God will sort through this mess. That even now God is at work in redeeming what is in bondage, putting together what is broken, bringing beauty into the ugliness of this world.

We need to keep reminding ourselves that it’s our own sin and yes, evil, that brings in a world of hurt. But that God stepped into this world, fully taking that hurt on himself on the cross. With the promise of resurrection. In and through Jesus.

we hate all the hate that has been directed against African Americans and is still latent

Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.

Romans 12:9

Last night I heard a documentary on the brutal hate murder of a fourteen year old boy, Emmett Till. Instead of brushing off the past as the past, we need to understand how it impacts the present, but more importantly, we need to own up to our own responsibility in a more or less willful ignorance and at least not a listening ear and heart to  understand the plight of others.

Latent racism is a fact of life. It’s everywhere, period. While there’s hate on all sides, those who perpetrated the problem are the ones that need to take the brunt of responsibility. Victims who react in hate are responsible, too, but must necessarily be held to a different standard. We honor the many victims who have been hurt and are in justifiable anger, but are ready for a good solution short of any violence, except for the righteous plea for justice.

Any association with organizations having any tie whatsoever with racial hate groups is to be judged in the church as sin. So that if a member is part of any such group, they must be confronted and disciplined if need be. Hopefully they will see fit to first of all repent of this sin, and to sever any such tie, but if not, the church should remove their membership, and appeal to them as someone outside the faith.

I live in a northern city with plenty of churches, but those whose feet are on the ground, and not only African Americans make it clear that systemic racism is alive and at least active here. It is considered a significantly racist area.

We as churches would do well to commit ourselves to having African Americans in places of leadership, including the pastorate. To have a good mix of leadership. That is what eventually can help the church be the witness to the power of the gospel in breaking down all divisions. Through the cross, Jesus broke down the wall of separation between Jews and Gentiles, and ultimately between everyone. Every human is God’s child by creation, so that we’re one family that way. Through Christ, we become one in him, reconciled to God and to each other. A love we’re to live out in down to earth ways, and with a sensitivity for the injustices which remain. As we wait together for our Lord’s return, when evil forever will be banished, and we’ll all live together in God’s love, in and through Jesus.

 

in it for the long haul

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.

Hebrews 12:1-2

The great book of Hebrews ends with a list of Old Testament saints who were simply people of faith (Hebrews 11). I use saints in the same way all are saints who are God’s people, set apart and holy, consecrated to God. We’re talking about ordinary people who have faith in an extraordinary God. See the passage.

The idea expressed here is not in terms of a sprint, or even a mile long race, but more like a marathon. It is a long race, actually lifelong. So that to run it well, we have to be in it for the long haul.

Often we think in terms of short bursts, or things in front of us we have to do which may take require special effort. We go from one such mini crisis to the next.

What might be more helpful for us is to try to look at everything, including the challenging problems as part of what we are called to do for the long haul. Everything is in the mix. Instead of seeing it all as one short sprint after another, it would surely be more healthy and helpful to see it as a whole, part of the race marked out for us by God. So that we’re not tied in knots over challenges that come our way, or inevitable setbacks.

When we get older, it may be easy to quit thinking in terms of the long haul. But this race lasts until the very end. We who are older ought to be an example in running it. Actually I wish I would have learned this well decades ago.

At any rate, let’s settle in, and by God’s grace throw off all that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles us. And with perseverance and endurance run, all the while fixing our eyes on Jesus. The one who is the pioneer and perfecter of faith, whom we follow. To the very end. In and through Jesus.