be on the side of mercy, God’s side

Mercy triumphs over judgment.

James 2

There is plenty of evil in the world. It can be found most anywhere, even in our own hearts at times. We long for justice against evildoing and evildoers. And for those who have been victimized, hopefully some kind of reparation that could be done. And if we’re of a Christian persuasion, we should want no less than restorative justice when that is possible. That the one doing evil will be held accountable, but also exhorted and encouraged, yes helped to do better, so that they can go back into society and live productive lives.

Mercy, especially in this broken existence, needs to be the watchword, indeed the passion for us who follow Christ. Just as we have freely received mercy from his hand, we’re to extend that mercy to others. The mercy of the gospel, yes, but also the mercy that comes from the gospel, or we could say is a part of it.

Lest we forget, we’re all in need of mercy everyday, and in a sense at every moment, since none of us in ourselves is worthy to stand before God being stained because of our sin. And we actually prove ourselves unworthy everyday by attitudes and corresponding actions, even if they’re only words under our breath. Unworthy of God’s mercy, justly judged to have fallen short.

But that’s an essential part of the Christian message, the heart of the gospel, that in Jesus there is always mercy and forgiveness extended to us, and to others. We are to accept that mercy for ourselves, and then live out this gospel by extending it to others, so that they can see that our faith is not about judging them, but extending mercy to them when they are undeserving. And of course mercy is not just about showing love at random to everyone. It is purposefully showing the same love to the undeserving that we ourselves receive through Christ.

Does this mean that others aren’t held accountable? Of course not. We all are. Mercy always takes seriously the sin that is being forgiven, or in love, covered over (1 Peter 4). We may need to gently confront or come along side those who are sinning (Galatians 6), or for those who do not know the Lord, we may simply need to show them the way of Jesus, which was love for his enemies, a pathway in which we’re to walk and live in our following of him. The way of the gospel. Not easy, but a picture of the good news in Jesus in which we live, so that others might see and believe, in and through him.

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God is delighted in change

The Lord told him, “Go to the house of Judas on Straight Street and ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul, for he is praying.

Acts 9

I think it’s both interesting, and actually not authentic, as in corresponding to the truth, and not real when someone seems to think or act as if they have it all together. Change is something which is to occur not only at the outset of our journey of faith, but ongoing, throughout that journey. Scripture bears witness to that again and again, both in precept and in story. We as evangelicals emphasize conversion as being at the point of salvation, and there’s plenty of truth in that. But actually, I think it’s a process which extends from before salvation, and continues on afterward to the very end of one’s life, if I read the pages of scripture correctly.

I believe from scripture and from what I see and experience that God in his grace through Jesus delights in the smallest, real change in us for good in making us more like himself, more like his Son, Jesus. And I’m thinking of change in just any one area, when plenty of other areas in our lives may and will still need some serious work, God’s working of course, along with our active compliance. It’s not like God shakes his head and says something like, “Well, that’s good, but he/she still has a long ways to go.” No. I believe without a doubt in the God who delights in any change in his children, which brings them somehow closer to him, and to his family likeness.

And just as much as that, I also believe that it comes primarily through us praying. Paul’s case (then called Saul), quoted above, is interesting, as he was in the midst of an epic, earthquake-like life changing experience, and in the midst of it, he is praying. I think without a doubt that if we take what is wrong in our lives seriously, and quit excusing it, we will start by confessing it as an actual sin to God, and then begin to pray, seeking him for the needed change, however that should be played out. Certainly a change of heart to begin with, and a change in our lives.

We can’t do this on our own, and we won’t, even if we think somehow that we are. We should take heart that God is bringing us along, and wants our communion with him through prayer, as he continues to make us like his Son, and brings the one family in him more and more into the light of his love and life. In and through Jesus.

trusting in the Lord does not mean throwing caution to the wind

Trust in the Lord with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to him,
and he will make your paths straight.

Do not be wise in your own eyes;
fear the Lord and shun evil.
This will bring health to your body
and nourishment to your bones.

Proverbs 3

Perhaps it should go without saying, though I think we have to tell the truth to ourselves and each other, that we simply don’t throw caution to the wind when we’re trusting in the Lord. In a strange sense we do in that we no longer want to act out of fear, or be led by that, except for a proper fear of God which is altogether different. Not to say that we don’t lock the doors of our house, or latch the windows at night, surely out of common sense, and not out of our own human emotion of fear.

When God’s leading might coincide with what we might ordinarily do, left to ourselves, than I can well imagine that the enemy’s accusing breath might be near, with some choice words to put us in our place. But the breath and voice of God are different. There is no doubt that under God’s leading there is quite a lot that we won’t do, and then other things we will, that without that leading would not have been the case. A key component in this is to wait on God in prayer. Our thought might be good, but the way of carrying it out, even if one is thinking only of the timing, may not be that good. We need to wait on God in trust that somehow God will direct us.

Obviously we don’t throw caution to the wind by doing what we feel like doing, and then attributing that to the Lord’s leading. There are times when any one of us might be susceptible to this. For example, we might like someone of the opposite sex whose looks might appeal to us. Of course that doesn’t mean we act on that impulse in a way which violates our covenant with our spouse and with God. In fact we reject such feelings as in any way offering us guidance as to what we can or even should do. Instead we submit ourselves to the truth of God’s word, even when that might go against our feelings at the time. Perhaps particularly for guys, and I’m thinking of a business trip alone in a motel, that might mean spending time in the word, and listening to the kind of music we enjoy, rather than watching at best a questionable movie, or even going to some pornographic website.

Our goal is to follow the Lord’s leading in all things. Part of that leading may be the freedom to make some decisions in collaboration with others in such a way which ends up agreeable to all. And that would include decisions within the family especially involving the wife and husband where there might be a disagreement, or different way of seeing things. Instead of jumping to one conclusion or another, it would seem best to spend some time together in prayer on the matter, and both pray separately with the goal of arriving to some place of peace between the two, all the while seeking the Lord on it for direction. Some things might be a matter of choice, and what might be best is for both to pray and reach some kind of peace together, seeking to find what’s best in the Lord’s eyes, all things considered. A considerable amount of wisdom beyond what any of us possesses in ourselves will be needed. Of course in answer to prayer God is always willing to grant that (James 1).

And so there will be times and matters in which we’re not sure what we should or shouldn’t do. Just because we are committed to the Lord’s leading in all things, doesn’t mean that everything will be easy. Perhaps while what we’re thinking may be alright, someone else has to work through it as well. And in the process both can grow. Relationships pleasing to God, as well the goal of complete trust in God must always be at the heart of what we’re about, along with the mission of God which is ours in Jesus as well, in terms of the gospel.

Properly understood, we don’t throw caution to the wind. Even as we continue to commit ourselves to being led by God in all things. In and through Jesus.

the inclusivity of the gospel

Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called “uncircumcised” by those who call themselves “the circumcision” (which is done in the body by human hands)— remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ.

For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.

Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.

Ephesians 2

I am a Bible person, and therefore am prone, especially when I’m at a loss as to what to post, to find some passage from scripture, and usually share just enough of the context along with the point embedded to write the post. I knew what part I wanted to land on today, but the entire text is so rich and meaningful, that I decided to include it in the actual post as well, and not just in the link as I ordinarily do. So if you don’t read anything else, make sure you read the above text from Ephesians.

The cross of Jesus brings the reconciliation of humanity to God and to each other. There can be no more out and out hate, or simply seeing different people as others with whom we have no part. Through the cross in Christ’s death, all are reconciled to God and to each other. The hostility put to death is both our hostility toward God and toward each other.

Therefore this change is through the gospel grounded in the work of Christ, his death and resurrection, and through the work of the Spirit which not only accompanies that, but is the Amen of God through that death in which we find the new life. We no longer live in the old barriers which divide us– not only Jew and Gentile, but white and black, along with all the other divisions within humanity which often put people at odds with each other.

Is all of this easy? Of course not. Read the entire book of Ephesians, along with the rest of the New Testament, and you can easily gather that it’s not. Old habits of thought and action can set in, and undermine the new life in Jesus, contradicting the salvation that is in Jesus. We in Jesus together must be a demonstration to the world of the truth, reality and power of the gospel. Helping others from all sides into this same love, and in so doing begin a healing process for many.

In and through Jesus the church should be the demonstration to the world of God’s intention to bring all of humanity together as one. It’s again, through the cross. In God’s love in Jesus.

repenting of the sin of racism

The white nationalist rally in Virginia yesterday reminds us of the ugly sin of racism, which is blatantly and openly being promoted in the United States today. I think something should have been said in churches this morning calling for the need for white supremacists to repent, and for all of us along with them to repent, since none of us is guiltless when it comes to racism, even those who as far as they know, don’t have a racist bone in their bodies.

From a Christian perspective, racism is at heart a denial of the gospel. The gospel is about both our reconciliation to God, and our reconciliation to each other, including, and we might even say, especially our enemies. Through the cross of Jesus, through his death, every wall of hostility is broken down, and destroyed. The love of the God who is love will prevail in and through Jesus.

In the meantime we live in a broken world, full of sin and hate, and the blindness and false vision that brings.

Again, we all need to start with ourselves. None of us is without guilt. We’re all compliant in some way or another. At the very least, we fail to love our neighbor if we don’t sufficiently try to understand their perspective and their plight.

We may not know where to begin, but we would do well to get on knees before God, and ask him for his help for us to see. It can be a struggle, because there is sin on every side. We have to forgive each other along the way. And we need to keep the larger narrative in view of slavery in the United States. To begin to think that African Americans/ Blacks don’t face anything different than we white Caucasians face, is at least a denial of the testimony of many a black sister and brother in Jesus today, along with other blacks.

I have plenty to learn on this. Let’s not ever think we have the answer, but together, let’s turn to the One who does. Looking to God through Jesus and the gospel to help us show the world the way of love. The Lord will help us through the Spirit to show the world the family love which characterizes those who know the Father, having been born of the Spirit.

As we look forward to the day when all sin and hate will forever be gone and only God’s love will remain, in and through Jesus.

finding the way of escape from temptation to sin

These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the culmination of the ages has come. So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.

1 Corinthians 10

There is a meme or thought that has been going around on the internet for some time which states that God won’t give us more than we can handle. Years back, our Pastor Jack Brown pointed out the fallacy of that statement, that in fact God does allow us to have more than we can handle ourselves, so that we will learn to trust in him, finding his strength in our weakness, words to that effect.  2 Corinthians is a great book to read with that theme in mind. As someone wisely pointed out recently, the 1 Corinthians 10 passage is not referring to struggles and burdens, but only to temptations.

I think the thought behind the meme might have had the above passage in mind, the truth that God won’t let us be tempted beyond what we are able, since he will provide the way for us to escape the temptation to sin. We need to keep both thoughts in mind. We live in weakness, up against forces and even the circumstances of life in a way in which we can’t navigate, or handle ourselves, so that we need to learn to cast ourselves on the Lord, and in our weakness depend on him and his strength. And we realize that we don’t have to yield to the temptation to sin in a given situation. That there’s a way out for us to escape. Think of Joseph running from Potiphar’s wife (Genesis 39).

In the prayer Jesus taught us, we are to pray, “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.” That certainly is an admission of our weakness, and complete dependence on God to deliver us from evil, spiritual warfare at least hinted at there. In passing, it’s good to note that the classic spiritual warfare passage, Ephesians 6:10-20 while involving armor and a weapon, is also to be accomplished in one simply standing their ground, not either turning back in flight, or advancing in conquest. That doesn’t suggest a passivity, nor is it to be confused with the advance of the light of the gospel even into places of darkness. This is certainly an important thought since our Lord taught us to regularly pray it.

It’s important not only what we do, but also what we don’t do. Temptation in this world through the flesh (James 1:13-15) and from the devil is very real. We had best not minimize it, but be prepared, because it is in fact a part of the present life. We can’t escape from the temptation itself, but we can escape from the sin which we’re tempted to commit. Temptation also includes sins of omission, in that we’re tempted to not do what we ought to do.

God is faithful, but we must take the way of escape. We must be aware of all of this, and instead of being upset because we are tempted, learn to find the way out which God provides. When we do sin, of course there’s always the confession of sin open for us. Although some sins will require much more as well, perhaps restitution, and carry a great cost. We should never trifle with sin of any kind, be it big (Psalm 19:13) or small. But some sin is to be avoided at all costs. There is a road back, no matter what the sin. But not an easy one, nor without serious consequences.

We look forward to the day when temptation to sin will be a thing of the past. Until then we take heed, and remain watchful. Trusting in God’s help and provision for us in and through Jesus.

the ideal church in the US in the present

First of all, right off from the top, there is no ideal church. Unless one is going to push their denomination or way of being church, there are a number of differences, which actually was the case even in the earliest days of the church, once it expanded beyond Jerusalem. And so I’m going to accept those differences which are many, today. As long as we’re united by the gospel, the good news about Jesus, we can live with those differences. I believe that’s the case between Catholic and Protestant; Calvinists, Pentecostals and Anabaptists, etc., etc. As long as the good news in Jesus is intact, the teaching of his incarnation, life and teaching, death and resurrection, ascension and promise of his return, even the details surrounding that we can see differently, provided that we accept salvation by grace through faith with works following. I am not one to quibble over justification with the Catholics, though I myself accept the solos which became theologically prominent through the Reformation. But now to the main point of this post.

We live in a nation which to a significant extent has been built off the backs of slaves. And even after their emancipation through the Civil War, you tell most any black or African-American that they are free, and they will qualify that. And we lived through one hundred years of segregation along with the Jim Crow era. There have been other prejudices, too, and all of that can fit into the point I’m going to make next, but given the history of this nation, and the current controversy over police and race relations, I will put a clear emphasis on blacks and whites and the church.

I believe that in order to be the witness the nation and the world needs from a church here, there needs to be a deliberate change and commitment to a racial reconciliation in which the African-Americans have just as much say and leadership in a given church as the white largely European Caucasians such as myself. In a small church, that might look like a black senior pastor, with a ethnically mixed board of elders and deacons (or deacons, if that’s the way your church runs). In a larger church, it might ideally somehow be two or more associate pastors who share the teaching and pastoral role, black and white, white and black, not in any particular order. But to be sure that the church is not still really run by whites, there ought to be an emphasis given to black leadership.

Of course there are many black churches and denominations. When I was young, blacks weren’t even allowed to step inside of Southern Baptist churches, and I’m sure they were marginalized in many places. But maybe black churches need to pray about their witness, as well. Maybe it’s time for them to purposefully integrate. But I can’t speak for them. If we’re to overcome what Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. called the most integrated hour of the week, Sunday morning, than your normal church, made up of whites with a few blacks and African-Americans here and there, must take the lead. We are the ones on the side of history of the oppressors. They are on the side of the oppressed.

To be color blind doesn’t mean we just remain comfortably in our place. It means we purposefully integrate, not from some law or order from government, but as part of the heart of the call of the gospel. To express by the Spirit the unity we all have through the good news in Jesus. Regardless of our ethnicity, background, political views, etc. But in the case of blacks and whites, this will require more.

Given our history, this unity is not just something we blithely put in place, even with some hard effort to accept and learn to appreciate our cultural differences. There must also be at the heart of all of this, reconciliation. And this reconciliation must include forgiveness on both sides: the blacks and African-Americans forgiving the whites for slavery in the first place, and all the mistreatment which followed. And the whites forgiving African-Americans and blacks for any and every sinful response that followed. And all of this, while it should be put into place in a church through the gospel, is a process in which we can’t imagine at a given point we’ve arrived. The wall of hostility is broken down through the gospel, through Jesus’s death, but the unity of the Spirit which follows requires every effort to maintain, and grow in. As we grow up together into the mature body of Christ that we’re called to become. A growth that is ongoing, and something we already are in Christ by the Spirit, but learning to live by and into the implications of all of that.

This is a great need in the church today. The way we do church just won’t do, I’m afraid, or at least it will be lacking, if this isn’t a priority well beyond just hoping others who are different might begin to trickle in. All of this in and through Jesus.