in the air of the word

Blessed is the one
who does not walk in step with the wicked
or stand in the way that sinners take
or sit in the company of mockers,
but whose delight is in the law of the Lord,
and who meditates on his law day and night.
That person is like a tree planted by streams of water,
which yields its fruit in season
and whose leaf does not wither—
whatever they do prospers.

Not so the wicked!
They are like chaff
that the wind blows away.
Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous.

For the Lord watches over the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked leads to destruction.

Psalm 1

Psalm 1 opens up the book of Psalms on the blessedness of those who meditate on God’s written word. Contrast is set with the wicked. It does seem the division is between “the righteous” and “sinners.” But actually what contrast there is seems more between the one who meditates on God’s word as opposed to the wicked. And since this is one book, the hymnbook of Israel, we would do well to consider the usage of this word in the Psalms (“wicked” and other forms of that word in the NIV).

The one who meditates on God’s law/word is not at home with sinners in the sense of participation with them in their way of life. And this would be especially true of those who are wicked, who while they might be drawn in by the goodness of one who is righteous, nevertheless still engage in wicked deeds.  Or at least scoff at the thought of righteousness, and of God’s law. This reminds me of Jesus’s words not to cast your pearls to pigs.

Jesus did welcome sinners, and ate and drank with them. But he certainly had no part with evil, in fact, those who sat with him either found themselves quite uncomfortable and out of place (I think of Pharisees), or were drawn in to be made whole (tax collectors and sinners).

This psalm speaks of the air in which we live and breathe in contrast to others. And the result. A basic we must first get hold of before we can help others. In and through Jesus.


vindication from God our Savior

Who may ascend the mountain of the Lord?
Who may stand in his holy place?
The one who has clean hands and a pure heart,
who does not trust in an idol
or swear by a false god.

They will receive blessing from the Lord
and vindication from God their Savior.
Such is the generation of those who seek him,
who seek your face, God of Jacob.

Psalm 24

When I read in the psalms about God vindicating his people, I think how undeserving I am of such vindication. And this is a psalm of David, who doesn’t seem that worthy of vindication when you consider his great sin of adultery and murder. But maybe that is meant to be an encouragement to the rest of us who, while we may have not committed such an act, still know we’re so undeserving because of what we have done, left undone, and because of grievous attitudes in our heart at times.

Just to make it clear what vindication means, it involves someone being proven to be in the right. When one thinks about that, one can’t help but think of God’s grace without which none of us would ever be in the right in the first place.

What especially stood out to me today in reading this great psalm is the line: “They will receive…vindication from God their Savior.” I think that helps us understand how God’s people are vindicated. It’s not because of them, but the God who saves them.

N. T. Wright helped me see from the psalms how God’s righteousness is tied to God’s salvation of his people. God’s saving act includes vindicating his people, who apart from that would never be vindicated. Of course this goes beyond what we deserve, because when we read all of the psalms and the rest of Scripture we understand that no one deserves vindication in themselves. We’re all sinners.

We receive vindication from God because of our faith and the difference God makes in our lives. We are different through and through, not wanting to do what is wrong, but wanting to do what’s right, even while we do fail along the way. It’s God’s working that makes us want to face our true selves, repent, and walk in God’s way, and keep doing that again and again with our ongoing confession of our sins, and endeavor to walk anew and afresh in God’s will for us in Christ.

And so we can be encouraged with this thought. God’s vindication of us is completely not because of us, but because of God, as by faith he credits righteousness to us, and helps us to want to live accordingly, even in the midst of our inevitable stumbling. God will vindicate us, yes, each one of us, in and through Jesus.


especially blessed can be the irregulars, those who don’t fit in

Looking at his disciples, he said:

“Blessed are you who are poor,
    for yours is the kingdom of God.
Blessed are you who hunger now,
    for you will be satisfied.
Blessed are you who weep now,
    for you will laugh.
Blessed are you when people hate you,
    when they exclude you and insult you
    and reject your name as evil,
        because of the Son of Man.

“Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven. For that is how their ancestors treated the prophets.

“But woe to you who are rich,
    for you have already received your comfort.
Woe to you who are well fed now,
    for you will go hungry.
Woe to you who laugh now,
    for you will mourn and weep.
Woe to you when everyone speaks well of you,
    for that is how their ancestors treated the false prophets.

Luke 6

When reading the gospel accounts (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) one gets the impression that Jesus is especially at home with the misfits, those who are either uncomfortably normal, or normally uncomfortable. I can’t help but think of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. The characters in that story (I confess to having not read the book, but only seeing the film) can be off the wall, out of place, not obvious candidates for what they end up doing, but they band together into a group with a common purpose thrust on them, along with a seemingly mystical touch.

I for one have felt much out of place most all of my life. I have a hard time accepting myself, much less expecting others to accept me, warts and all. So I am amazed if anyone does put up with what is off in me, and still accepts me as a friend. It doesn’t seem to happen often. I am among those who have a cynical bent, and ask the hard questions. Yet I’m also more than happy to simply use that to more and more gently fit into a greater purpose than myself, or anyone else. Together with others.

In this world, if everyone was cool all the time with what is going on, it would be sad indeed. I wonder about a Christianity where everything is great all the time, in which one is always full of joy, and lets nothing bother them. It seems to me that real Christians ought to take seriously the sufferings of this world, and in and through Jesus and his suffering be able to navigate those hard places with the weeping followed by joy (in the morning, as the psalm says).

We need to make room and have a place for those who don’t fit, but may seem to be looking for a home. Can they find it with us in Jesus? Are we helping them to find their place in Jesus? God in Christ has reconciled the world to himself, not counting people’s sins against them, and therefore calls each one to be reconciled to him. And many who are reconciled may not be at home with us, because we fail to see God’s love on them, even Jesus in them. They are often the irregulars, the misfits, those who don’t have, or find much of what this world holds dear. But who are really at home in and through Jesus.

the room of grace versus the room of good intentions

The small group we’re part of from our church has read and been discussing a most interesting book, The Cure: What If God Isn’t Who You Think He Is And Neither Are You, by John Lynch, Bruce McNicol, and Bill Thrall. In some ways it’s a bit of a challenging read, at least my copy of it, when you have a bit longish stories told in rather small italics. But it is well worth the effort. With good end notes to check the reasons from scripture a certain point is being made.

The book really gets down to life, where we live, and is life-changing in that it seeks to help us find God’s radical grace in the midst of it. I’m sure it has its weaknesses, but its strengths are readily apparent. I have thought that scripture and life is a bit more complicated that what it presents, yet the main point won’t let me go, and I can tell that its truth is changing me.

The theme is that it’s what God has done in Christ, and our position in Christ through trusting God and his word that makes all the difference. It’s not about our good intentions which will fail, although many of us put on masks to cover that up. It is about the real us, with all our troubles and struggles and failures along the way, being changed the only way scripture says we can be changed, by God’s grace through faith.

One example from the book, as I recall it: In the room of good intentions, everyone is set on doing their best for God, in doing God’s will, and everyone has a certain air about that. There’s plenty of pain in that room and house, because no one completely lives up to it. In fact failure ends up marking the entire project, because everyone hides from everyone else who they really are, and what they’re really thinking, and to some extent doing. Whereas the house and room of grace is full of broken people who are real with each other, who don’t try to put on any front. Who together with Jesus end up working through the mess of their lives, and find God’s grace very present through it all. The emphasis is not on what they are doing, but what God has already done through Christ.

I have been away from the book for awhile, but I think its message has found a place in my heart, working its way into my life. Again, it’s the message of grace. Not about measuring up to something by ourselves, but acknowledging our mess, how we fail and don’t measure up. But believing there is hope for us to actually change only in God’s grace that is ours in Christ.

One controversial point the book makes, which I believe (and have believed in the past) is true, rightly understood, is that we in Christ are no longer sinners, but saints, or holy ones. Martin Luther insisted that we’re simultaneously sinners and saints. The fact that we sin at all, and struggle in areas, known or maybe even unknown we could say makes us sinners. But the Bible does make a distinction between sinners and the righteous. In and through Jesus, we have the gift of righteousness in a right standing with God, and in a changed heart which contrary to the past, wants to please God.

All in all, it’s a good read. But be aware, it’s a life-changing read. One that will have you going back to scripture, and considering your own life.

Has any reader read it, and what were your impressions?

does God love people no matter what they do? who is the God who is love?

Scripture clearly says that God hates evildoers, specifically those who victimize others such as the poor. Yet it also says that God is not willing that any should perish, that God takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked, wanting them to repent and live. I don’t believe there’s any sinner or sin which can’t be forgiven through God’s grace in Jesus.

God’s jealousy may be with reference to God’s infinite, cascading love. When people don’t give God something of the honor due him, or worship other gods in their hearts and lives, then God’s jealousy is aroused.

God is grieved when God’s people sin against him and others in their attitudes and actions, especially when they fail to love each other as Christ has loved us. That too is an expression of God’s love.

God in his love pursues us, and wants us to experience that love and be changed by it. So as to love out of being loved. God wants us to live in the same love that marks God as Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The same love shown to us and to the world in Jesus in his Incarnation, life and teachings, death and resurrection. Especially prominent and made known in Jesus’s death on the cross. That is how much God loves; God died on the cross in the Person of the Son.

Yes, God’s love goes on. But what is our response to that love? By what theologians call prevenient grace, God enables us hopeless and lost sinners to open our hearts to God’s heart through the gospel, the good news in Jesus. The question becomes not whether God loves everyone or not, because even though he may hate for a time, it seems to me from scripture that eventually God’s longing love wins out, and he would woo even the worst of sinners to himself. The question turns in on us. Will we respond? And the danger is that we will grow careless and hard hearted, so that we can be in danger of sinning against the work of the Spirit in prevenient grace, and thus close the door to God’s love for us, and perhaps seal our fate by our own choice.

Yes, no matter what, God is love, and God loves. That is shown within scripture and supremely and climactically in Jesus himself. We need to learn to read scripture and see all of life in that light. And let that change us even toward enemies. Changed by the love of God in Jesus who is love, that we might begin to live and grow in that love toward each other and everyone else.

the way of weakness and humility

Amidst all the glitz and glamor of the American popular scene comes the way of Jesus. Completely and totally different. The way of the world, in this case, the American culture, is the way of strength and show, certainly the way of pride. “I’m better than you are, and I’ll prove it.” Counter to that, the way of God in Jesus: the way of weakness and humility. Completely unimpressive to the world, in fact not only weak, but foolish, as well (1 Corinthians 1:18-2:5).

A big emphasis in America is on presentation, on selling one’s self, making one’s self look good and compelling. The way of Jesus is the way of the cross, unmasking one’s self, acknowledging one’s guilt and lack of goodness, and lostness. What it means to be human, to live well is at stake here.

The new humanity found and being restored in Jesus is actually what humankind was created to be in the first place as male and female made in God’s image, and as such God’s representatives, caretakers, and rulers under God in this world. That humanity is being restored in Jesus into something even more in the way of love, the love of the Trinity: no less than the way of the cross, the way of self-sacrificial love even for one’s enemies, even as God in Jesus sacrificed God’s self for us who in our sin are in enmity against God.

The way of Jesus won’t get much traction in the world, and it’s not meant to. The wisdom and strength God gives is in and through Jesus, and comes through the acknowledgement that we are foolish and weak in ourselves, broken in our humanity as sinners. In Jesus through his death and resurrection we find our way to God and toward what it means to be human. In the community of those in Jesus, the church, and out from that in the mission of the good news in Jesus to the world, as we live out together the life which alone is truly life, the eternal life in Jesus our Lord.

nothing less than sinners

My friend who is a professor-scholar-pastor, Allan R. Bevere wrote a a helpful piece on how we are sinners, not merely people who are essentially good, but who make mistakes here and there. Yes, we can call them mistakes, but when we do so, we may be giving short shrift, or even giving the lie to the biblical witness that we are sinners indeed. Sin is not even a word which fits into the world’s vocabulary. We simply need more knowledge, more enlightenment, then we’ll do what is good and right, whatever that means, of course by the standards we set. Even the idea of evil, as strange as that may seem given the horrific acts and even systems which remain and enslave as well as destroy people, still, evil is a bit of a taboo word as well, and certainly sin.

I suppose it reminds too many people of perhaps a bad experience they’ve had at the hands of religion. Sadly enough, sin knows no boundaries and infects us all, so that we’re all in need of change, in Christian terms forgiveness and cleansing, and that, ongoing.

To admit the possibility of a concept like sin, is to acknowledge something of a standard of what’s right and wrong, good and bad. We would do well to work at rehabilitating prisoners, but we have prisons for good reason. Some people have broken what are considered boundaries which cannot be crossed, such as the taking of a life. Those might be considered extremes, but consider Jesus’s teaching: If one is angry with their brother and sister they are in danger of harboring murder in their hearts (Matthew 5:21-26). John tells us that anyone who hates a brother or sister is a murderer in their hearts (1 John 3:15).

One might as well deny the concept of love as in caring about someone else (not just love because of what one can get out of it) and doing so in self-sacrificial ways. We all need help in that way, more than that, each other’s love along the way.

We have the pattern in Jesus Christ, the one who laid down his life for us and for the world. The one who brings us into the one love from which all genuine love comes from through creation and new creation: the love of the Trinity: the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. The cross was no accident. We in Jesus have to go through nothing less than death into new, resurrection life.

Let’s gladly accept the reality of our sin, so that we can even more gladly accept the life-changing power of God’s salvation in and through Jesus.

joy over what is found

This morning I was at a loss to find a sweatshirt which I thought would be good for the job I want to do today. I finally found it, in an odd place to be sure, though I remembered putting it in there vaguely, in the drawer with my t-shirts.

Scripture tells us in Jesus’ words that there is more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who need no repentance. Why? Because the lost is found!

We all belong to God because of creation. We are made in God’s image. And yet we are indeed lost in our sins and alienated from God.

God doesn’t let us go; God in a true sense seeks us. In a number of ways, but essentially by the Spirit and through the word, especially the message of the gospel.

How does God do this to those in far off places (maybe even near), perhaps isolated, who have either never heard the gospel, or may have heard a distorted view of it? I don’t know, but I believe God does seek them. I believe it because of God’s mercy. God is a merciful God. Do people need to hear the message of the gospel to have saving faith? According to scripture, yes, so I say unequivocally, of course. I go by scripture, by the word, by what God has revealed, and leave what he has not revealed to others to speculate over. I might do some speculation myself, but never would I press any of my speculations into teaching.

We need to pursue something of this sense of people’s lostness to God along with something of the sense of longing that they might be found by God. Notice I did not say, found by us, as if it’s we who are pursuing them. We should pray that they might be found by God.

The message of the gospel of King Jesus is indeed a message of reconciliation through Jesus’ death and resurrection. Sinners are reconciled to God, to themselves, to each other, and to creation. The reconciliation of all things awaits Jesus’ coming, when all is made new in him. But the beginning of that reconciliation is happening now. As God pursues the lost even through us. Some proclaiming, all being witnesses and all in prayer- that by the power and working of the Spirit, the lost may be found, the sinner may come home to joy and celebration in the love and care of God. Together in Jesus in this for the world.

Jimmy Dunn (a key theologian of the New Perspective on Paul) on Luther and justification by faith

The insight granted to Luther has remained at the heart of Protestant Christian thought: ‘Justification by faith’ is a sharp sword which punctures all inflated thoughts of self-importance. It is a sharp knife which cuts away all reliance on human effort, on human cleverness. It is a sharp spade which undermines any attempt to build our own protective barriers or control our own destiny. It cuts through all human pretence, all human self-assurance, all human boasting. God accepts not the important, or the activist, or the clever, or the powerful as such. It is the sinner he accepts. That is an insight which has been applied over and over again in Christian critique of false religiosisty and political systems. It is an insight which must never be lost from the gospel….

There is more to it, of course.

James D. G. (“Jimmy”) Dunn quoted by Scot McKnight from James D. G. Dunn, Alan M. Suggate, The Justice of God: A Fresh Look at the Old Doctrine of Justification by Faith, 8-9 quoted by Scot McKnight in A Community Called Atonement, 96.

a bunch of failures

I recall the story of a man who as a Christian had it all together to the point that his children said that they had never seen him do anything wrong. Indeed everything he did seemed to be right. To the point that one of the children left the Christian faith behind, fearing that they could never measure up to the standard set before them by their father.

A sad story? Yes. The fact is that we are all sinners, and in one way or another, we’re all failures. I wish I could live my life over again in some ways, with the same wife and daughter of course, but avoiding some of the pitfalls I did not avoid well, and growing in areas in which I am not mature enough. The good news for me is that even at my age (mid-fifties), by God’s grace I can seek to do better the rest of my life. The fact would remain, however, that I am still a sinner in need of forgiveness, simply because I not only struggle with sin, but sometimes do sin. And we sin in ways we’re not clearly aware of in our lack of love for God and for neighbor.

We often look at ourselves, perhaps our finances, or maybe a past divorce, or a past sin, or perhaps the way we failed in raising our children. And we think there is no hope. Actually we live in a nation which is besieged with the same issues.

But we who are so conscious of our sins, failures, and shortcomings are the very ones God wants to use to help the many others who likewise are sinners and failures in some way. I don’t say we’re failures in ourselves, only because we each are special, made in God’s image. But we are failures in the sense that we have gone our own way rather than God’s. We indeed are sinners.

This helps me when I consider serious issues, and think that because I have not met all of these well in my past with some ramifications for the present, that I therefore can’t help others, or serve them in the ministry of the word and prayer. Actually in one sense I am now uniquely fitted to do that, since the Lord has helped me, and is helping me to get past those issues. I know that I too am in need of God’s forgiving and restoring grace just as much as the next person. This thought can be an encouragement to churches, as well, who for this or that reason may think they can’t go on as a viable church. God loves to take that which seems rejected, and use it for his own good purposes to bless others and glorify himself.

And so I take my stand as one of the failures. Who does not in any way, shape or form excuse sin, or excuse my sin. But who also knows that the Lord is present to help us even partner with him, that other sinners might see Jesus through us, and live.