doing the best imperfect we can

Let your work be manifest to your servants
and your glorious power to their children.
Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us
and prosper for us the work of our hands—
O prosper the work of our hands!

Psalm 90:16-17

I’d like to know one single thing that humans ever did perfectly. That probably depends on what you mean by perfect, and what measure is put forward to determine that. For example, humankind has flown into space, even landed on the moon. The technology to engineer and perform such feats had to take a measure of perfection. Maybe there’s some margin of error in the mix, but if it’s outside of the parameters set, disaster could be the result, or hopefully instead a scrubbed launch or whatever.

When it comes to ethics, we humans usually if not always have something of mixed motives. Maybe not all the impurities are actually sinful, like for example we may feel clumsy among others, and fear being looked down on, or something to that effect. I think we can have the right heart in doing something, out of love, and I’m a bit suspicious that any sin, latent or otherwise has to be in the mix with that.

Regardless of how we parse that, I am encouraged by the thought to just keep doing the best imperfect that I can, and together with others to do the best imperfect we can. Yes, we’re going to make mistakes, and we’ll find out down the road a way that we could have done something better. But I don’t think we humans are called to make sure we do everything perfectly. What does that mean, anyhow? How can we really know? And most importantly, is there anything that is perfect in this existence in some sort of final, permanent sense? I don’t think so.

So we happily press on, just trying to use the best judgment and make the best decisions possible with the limited resources and time we have here. But believing in all of that, that God is able to take our inevitably imperfect thoughts and acts done in love into the perfection of God’s working, both for the present and for the time to come.

not living under condemnation

Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do: by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and to deal with sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, so that the just requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For this reason the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law—indeed, it cannot, and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.

But you are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. But if Christ is in you, then the body is dead because of sin, but the Spirit is life because of righteousness. If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you.

So then, brothers and sisters, we are obligated, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh— for if you live according to the flesh, you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, “Abba! Father!” it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs: heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if we in fact suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.

Romans 8:1-17

There is nothing more debilitating than living under the sense of condemnation, feeling and thinking one is condemned due to what they have failed to do, or whatever may be the case. And indeed the enemy of our souls, really of all humankind, the accuser of the sisters and brothers, likes nothing more than to rain down condemnation on us, to heap that on our heads, so that we’re weighed down and suffocating with it.

But in Christ Jesus we read that there’s no condemnation at all, none! Yes, because of Christ’s death, resurrection and intercession for us (Romans 8:34), we’re set free to live above and beyond any sense of condemnation, through the Spirit. We live new lives in a realm in which sin and death are taken care of, are actually banished as far as holding sway over our lives.

This is not just a matter of accepting something as true so that we escape the sense of condemnation. It’s living in a realm in which guilt and condemnation essentially don’t exist. Not that the accuser won’t be back to make us think otherwise. But in Christ Jesus we are indeed set free to live the life God has for us in love for God and neighbor, individually and together. With no condemnation at all.

secondary necessary provision

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:4-7

Wouldn’t we all like to live above certain things? Whatever ails us, to be precise. When we’re in the clear, away from that, life with its normal inconveniences and struggles seems mostly all good. But when we fall into what seems to us an unnecessary pit, all of that is gone, and it’s almost as if we can’t even climb our way out, or it’s at least a struggle to do so. Or more like the light has to unexpectedly and as it were slowly, as if sneaking up on us and entering unawares, come to settle in, and we can again breathe a little easy, even while a bit traumatized from what has preceded.

What we’re told in the above passage is an example of what I would like to call secondary, but necessary provision. I’m not sure what better term to give it right now. Secondary not in the sense that it’s not important and even vital for us, for our lives here and now. But secondary in the sense that it’s given to us when we’re muddled up into something less than the full life in which God wants us to live in Christ. Actually it might be primary or of first importance for a long time, until we can grow to the point where we need this help now and then, but to some extent don’t live with the problem area enveloping and plaguing our lives.

Something to consider in the life of God given to us in Jesus.

Advent and freedom

Then Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.”

So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.

John 8:31-32, 36

Advent is the hope as in the anticipation of Christ’s coming to set God’s people and actually in the end all humanity free, liberated. And in Jesus’s time, this was certainly on the minds of his people who generally probably wanted nothing more than to break loose from the yoke of Rome. They may have felt like exiles in their homeland.

But Jesus pointed out to them that the slavery humanity needs to break away from, yes, even them, God’s people, was sin. And sin in the sense of violating love of neighbor which is the marque expression of love for God. In scripture this involves breaking away from all that binds us, be it human rules thought necessary for life, as well as powers holding sway over nations, peoples and individuals.

Advent is anticipation of Christ’s coming when we will truly be free at last, ultimately and forever. The beginning of that freedom is present through Christ’s first coming when by faith people can enter into something substantial of this very same freedom, meant one day to free all of creation, all humanity.

In the meantime, we need to be aware of what binds and blinds us. Cultic thinking is not confined to what is popularly called cults as in false ideologies, teachings, philosophies and religions. It is found anywhere anything is imposed which is insistent that only by adhering to this ideology, way of thinking and way of life that freedom will be found. That false insistence is coupled with the idea that all who don’t adhere to their movement are enslaved or in danger of such.

But in Christ we’re free even now, free to live fully in God’s will for us today, away from all that binds and would bind us, yes, even today. Anything insistent on their way or the highway is cultic, and actually does the very thing they’re telling people that they’re victims of. Such cultic thinking of any and every kind simply binds and blinds. Only in Christ are we set free. And we await the full completion of what is present now when Christ returns.


what we have seen and heard we also declare to you so that you also may have fellowship with us, and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.

1 John 1:3

Central to and part of the core of the Christian faith is fellowship, or what some might prefer to call communion. Just as God in God’s triunity is in communion with God’s self, of course something we can’t parse out and understand, so we humans are created to live in such a relationship in harmony with God and each other. Fellowship or communion is at the heart of who God is, the nature of God. And so if God is a reality, or in Christian or Jewish terms maybe we could say the overriding reality, then any fellowship with God automatically takes us into this space with God and with each other.

Of course as the biblical story tells us, and as we see all too clearly in life, such harmony is rarely present, and indeed our fellowship and communion is indeed broken, or at least strained and cracked. This is not where we live or at least not what characterizes our existence. We are off on another quest, far removed from that so that we’re actually removed from life itself.

But Christ, what is called the cosmic Christ, but not divorced from the Jesus of the gospels, in fact united with that, is really the reality that gives humanity the hope which brings humanity together toward a harmonious whole. In this time and present existence there will always be the principalities and powers, both human and spiritual, which are ever resistant and downright opposed to this, infiltrating everywhere. We need to know that the answer is present in Christ, but that the struggle in the present will continue. Not that there can’t be progress, but it seems that this side of the end will always include opposition and struggle.

The fellowship here is not only a sense of blissful intercourse, but also a love which is concerned for all in the love for our neighbor as ourselves. It is a fellowship not at rest until what is true in Christ becomes something true of the world itself, of all things, certainly to be finished when Christ returns, but something we are to be committed to here and now. As we more and more live and experience with each other the reality in God and in Christ by the Spirit.

a Christ-centered faith

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation, for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.

Colossians 1:15-20

…in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them…

2 Corinthians 5:19a

Yes, the Trinity and the Incarnation all enshrouded in mystery as God is. But what God has revealed is the point. And the center of that revelation is Christ himself. Apart from Christ there is ultimately no revelation from God, at least not in any saving way. And it is a salvation inclusive of all humankind, yet standing in judgment of all humankind as well. Judgment is needed before salvation, indeed shows the need for salvation. Collectively as well as individually we have failed to love God with all our heart, soul, strength and mind, and we have failed to love our neighbor as ourselves. Thus the judgment rendered, and God’s salvation from that judgment in Christ.

Christ might not always be invoked or explicit in our thinking. But if faith is according to the gospel, then Christ is always the light, life and power in creation to bring about the new creation, in this brokenness to bring about the needed reconciliation of all things.

This is the truth and reality on which we as Christ followers and Christ’s church stand. From which we live as witnesses.

content with weaknesses

It is necessary to boast; nothing is to be gained by it, but I will go on to visions and revelations of the Lord. I know a person in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know; God knows. And I know that such a person—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know; God knows— was caught up into paradise and heard things that are not to be told, that no mortal is permitted to repeat. On behalf of such a one I will boast, but on my own behalf I will not boast, except of my weaknesses. But if I wish to boast, I will not be a fool, for I will be speaking the truth. But I refrain from it, so that no one may think better of me than what is seen in me or heard from me, even considering the exceptional character of the revelations. Therefore, to keep me from being too elated, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me, to keep me from being too elated. Three times I appealed to the Lord about this, that it would leave me, but he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” So I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ, for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.

2 Corinthians 12:1-10

Weakness seems to be a part of life in this world. I’m not referring to actual sin here, nor is Paul in the above passage. That’s another matter, and certainly God’s grace covers that as we confess our sins to God and when need be to others. God alone can parse out some of the issues which need to be resolved in the kind of weaknesses Paul is talking about here, and give us insight in that. But interestingly enough, these were problems that were not going to go away, or a problem more likely, though we see Paul include a list of things at the end.

Thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to no less than torment him, that doesn’t seem like anything good from God. And surely none of that came directly from God. Yet God not only used it, but somehow actually gave it. Yes Paul was given this, I take it from God. You would easily guess that those who are God’s servants in ministry might somehow feel elated and on top of the world. I at least think they ought to have God’s peace as they go about their lives and work. But Paul’s peace and more precisely contentment came in the midst of experiencing something quite less than elation, the kind of thing that could easily plunge one into the depths of despair.

Note that three times no less Paul appealed to the Lord, that this torment, thorn in the flesh, whatever it precisely was would be removed. Paul knew the Lord could do that. But the Lord’s reply: “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” And Paul’s response to that was an acceptance which opened the door to experience Christ’s power resting upon him as never before. All for the sake of Christ. Something again that I want to learn to live in much better than I do.

yes, this is directed to “Christians,” followers of Christ (“Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.”)

Those conflicts and disputes among you, where do they come from? Do they not come from your cravings that are at war within you? You want something and do not have it, so you commit murder. And you covet something and cannot obtain it, so you engage in disputes and conflicts. You do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive because you ask wrongly, in order to spend what you get on your pleasures. Adulterers! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. Or do you suppose that the scripture speaks to no purpose? Does the spirit that God caused to dwell in us desire envy? But God gives all the more grace; therefore it says,

“God opposes the proud
but gives grace to the humble.”

Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Lament and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned into mourning and your joy into dejection. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.

James 4:1-10

When you read this relatively short book or letter of James, at least I get the sense that this is from one, a James who is a pastor at heart, but at the same time minces no words. And you also get it plainly that he’s writing to believers in Christ. 

What James is getting at is about real life. And what people do and fail to do, including true believers of Christ. We might believe, but do we always follow Christ in our attitudes and actions, our behavior and words? We all know the answer to that. We know it firsthand, and by what we witness. And James saw through what was happening in his time, with a pastoral concern coming from both the wisdom and prophetic tradition of Israel, along with the fulfillment present in Christ. 

James makes no two ways about it. When we’re caught up in sin, specifically here sins of division due to sinful attitudes on our part, he gets right after them (and by extension, us), calling them sinners, and telling us and them among other important things that we’re to cleanse our hands and purify our hearts. It’s up to us, period. We’re to get it together, humbling ourselves in submission to God, resisting the devil and drawing near to God. And then in no uncertain terms, the ultimatum to take care of what’s wrong in ourselves.

Yes, we can only do this because of God’s unmerited grace to us in Christ. But we must do it. Or else what James says here means nothing. Or at least means nothing to us. It’s a poor theology that can’t figure out how to include and somehow apply all for us, especially that which is written in Christian Scripture (“the New Testament”). Position in Christ is one thing, practice is something entirely different. Because of our position or place “in Christ” we have the responsibility to deal with what’s wrong in our own lives. And within community, as James is getting at, to live well together in the harmony of Christ in the unity of the Spirit. In and through Jesus.

let anger come and go

Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not make room for the devil.

Ephesians 4:26-27

I doubt that I don’t sin or do wrong whenever I’m angry. The initial impulse and reason will likely be good, but my anger takes me into territory which is not helpful. At the same time to have no anger at all doesn’t at all seem right in the face of tragedy at the hands of what’s evil.

We can’t bear the full weight of the evil and its ramifications. What has angered me the most is religious even so-called Christian responses to tragedies which can be heartfelt to be sure, but often misguided. I’m thinking now of the gun violence in the United States, and especially in the murder of school children. And just the devotion to guns that people have. There are other issues too.

And then there are personal matters in which we have to deal with others as well as our own issues, our mistakes, wrongs, whatever the case might be. Frustration, resentment, and anger can too easily come bubbling up to the surface.

But in Ephesians quoting from the psalms, we have most helpful words of wisdom. Let anger come, but also let it go. Don’t hold onto it. It will affect us in every way conceivable, not for the good. In its place there needs to be the resolve to become part of the solution. Always seeking to love our enemies, along with everyone else. But sparingly and at proper times letting anger come, but also letting it go in a relatively short time.

In and through Jesus.

turning bad into good

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

Romans 8:28; NRSVue

It’s inevitable in life that we’ll make some mistakes along the way which we regret. Some are far worse than others, even grievous sin included, and often it’s hard for us to let go of such. Yes, we know in Christ that we are forgiven. What I’m thinking of in this post are actually mistakes that are less than sin, but perhaps become sin for us because we can’t let them go. Or perhaps they reveal something about us that is coming to the surface.

We are told in Scripture that all things work together for good for those who love God and are called according to God’s purpose. Since that’s the case, we should seek to find that good out of whatever might be happening, whatever we might be facing in our lives. There is plenty that’s challenging, and not good in itself, things that can seem quite threatening to us.

Whether or not we can discern something of what God is doing in any given difficult situation, we can at least take the same mindset and seek to bring good out of the bad, figuring out what we can learn out of it, and what we can do. I know some people will say that we don’t have to, indeed that we should not do anything. That all has already been done. And I think I understand their point: that we’re to rest in God’s love for all in Christ. But I would tell them, yes, but true faith becomes active. That faith without works is dead. That in James’s words, we’re not justified by faith alone, but by works. And I would add that oftentimes God wants us to be participants in what God is doing. But that’s getting into another subject, even if it speaks into the current issue.

All I’m saying is that no matter what we may be facing, whatever bad it is, we need to somehow seek to find whatever good might come out of it. To turn the bad on its head. To make a setback, oftentimes what might seem seriously so, into an advance. To develop that mentality, that attitude toward life.

Of course, doing all of this in prayer. With some creative, imaginative thought hopefully helped by God’s Spirit. Perhaps landing on a text in Scripture and a promise in Jesus that hitherto we’ve not taken seriously enough (example: Matthew 11:28-30).

At any rate, in a world in which we’ll face many difficulties and sometimes situations where something bad is involved, we need to develop this mindset, this heart and attitude. That no matter what, come what may, we’re going to be looking for the good that can come out of it. Since all things, no matter what somehow work together for good. In and through Jesus.