THE GRACE TO KEEP GOING

Philippians 2:12-13 ‘What I’m getting at, friends, is that you should simply keep on doing what you’ve done from the beginning. When I was living among you, you lived in responsive obedience. Now that I’m separated from you, keep it up. Better yet, redouble your efforts. Be energetic in your life of salvation, reverent and sensitive before God. That energy is God’s energy, an energy deep within you, God himself willing and working at what will give him the most pleasure.’ (MSG)

The only reason or way we can live faithfully is because of God’s grace at work in us. That’s what Paul is writing in this passage. We are saved by grace and enlivened daily by grace. It’s all grace.

Even at a time when Paul was hindered by some infirmity God kept reminding Paul that God’s grace was all Paul needed to keep going. (See 2Cor. 12) Then I saw this quote on an Internet chat.

‘Happiness keeps you sweet

Trials keep you strong

Sorrows keep you human

Failures keep you humble

God keeps you going.’  (K. Lawrence)

Grace is the energy and motivation of God that keeps us moving in an eternal direction. Paul describes this motivation. ‘ And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.’ (2Corinthians 9:8) Peter tells the church to keep growing in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. (2Peter 3:8)

John Newton penned this phrase in his hymn, ‘Amazing Grace’:

‘T’was grace that brought me safe thus far

And grace will lead me home.’

So never fear about your own frailties and even failures because the Lord will keep us going even as he did Peter when he was about to deny Christ.

“Simon, stay on your toes. Satan has tried his best to separate all of you from me, like chaff from wheat. Simon, I’ve prayed for you in particular that you not give in or give out. When you have come through the time of testing, turn to your companions and give them a fresh start.” (Luke 22: 31-32 MSG)

How great to know that at every moment our God is with and within us working in us, completing his will in our lives. And that’s all grace.

So for this day receive the benediction from the letter of Jude (found just before the book of Revelation):

 And now to him who can keep you on your feet, standing tall in his bright presence, fresh and celebrating—to our one God, our only Savior, through Jesus Christ, our Master, be glory, majesty, strength, and rule before all time, and now, and to the end of all time. Yes. (Jude 1:24,25 MSG VERSION)

 

 

 

 

 

 

WAKE ME WHEN WE GET THERE

Hope, as translated in the Message version of the Bible, is ‘keeping alert to what God will do next’. (Romans 5:5) We know that God is involved in our lives. Jesus was and is God’s loving presence making his home among us (John 1:14) He came to prove that God is ‘for us’ and not against us. (Romans 8:31). He came find those of us who have been ‘lost’ and bring us home. He comes not to judge but so save. (John 3:17)

All this and much more leads to ‘hope’ because the same God who was in Christ is in us by his Spirit (Romans 5). It is an organic and intimate hope. It’s in our DNA as believers and those yet to be.

Sometimes when we were kids our families would go on car trips with my parents, dad being the designated driver. And as could happen we’d get a bit lost but dad always said that he knew or could find the way. And it’s because we trusted him that we knew everything would be okay. But, as I still felt a tad uneasy with these ‘strange’ journeys, I would decide to go to sleep in the back seat trusting that when I awoke all would be well. Our dad was good to us. He could be trusted. Even asleep I was alert to the good that would eventually happen. HOPE.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer once wrote, “There is meaning in every journey that is unknown to the traveler.” And every day is a journey with God. Hope is keeping alert to where God is taking us even in the most daily routines and into the darkest of nights. And it is only God’s goodness to us, his children, that gives us any certainly even in uncertainty, that the journey will be blessed.

Bonhoeffer being in a prison cell had hope that he would be released. But as time went on he began to realize that his death was inevitable. But even in that realization he did not lose hope. His last words were hope-laden. “This is the end but for me it is the beginning.” These words are a mirror of Jesus’ prayer on the cross, ‘Father into thy hands I give myself.” Paul reflecting on his dark days wrote, ‘For me to live is Christ and to die is gaining even more.”

These are all statements of hope, not naïve positive thinking. They have a foundation in the promise and person of God. They are borne of experience with God and through redemption by Christ.

So we never give up. But if you have to for a while (like falling asleep on a trip) know that ‘while scary uncertain stuff comes at night, joy always comes in the morning.’ (From Psalm 30:5)

Remember this. Hope always contains a bit of uncertainty because we still live earthbound and in the flesh. See faith is saying yes to following Christ- hope is the anticipation of the good in the journey.

Hope can be like the man who is asked by Jesus if he, the father, really believes that his son can be healed. The man responds ‘I believe, help my unbelief, my doubt.’ Sort of like saying, ‘Jesus I trust you and I know what you can do but there is reservation within me, a feeling of doubt about which I must be honest and even with that doubt I will trust you.’

That would be like my dad saying to me, ‘Son do you believe I can find the best route on this trip?’ ‘Sure dad, but would it be okay if I took a little nap back here and then you can wake me when we get there.’

THE GRACE OF AMBIGUITY

Ambiguity is defined as uncertainty. It is the nature of humans to dislike uncertainty. It’s risky and even fear producing not to know the answer to life’s deeper questions such as ‘is there a God?’, ‘why is there so much suffering?’, ‘why am I here and where am I going and who cares? Is the Bible true, and why don’t the Jehovah witnesses have the same Bible as I do? ‘Am I going to be judged? And what about all those different religions?’ And then, ‘what’s for dinner?’ And did I make the right decision? And on and on and on?

An ethicist once asked Mother Teresa if she would pray for him for clarity in his life. Her response was, ‘I have never had clarity. I have had trust. I pray that you will have trust.’

I once saw a cartoon where the pastor of a church was sitting behind his desk and behind him on the wall was a poster showing the steady decline of attendance in the church. His assistant pastor was standing in front of him and said, ‘Maybe it would be better if you didn’t end every sermon with ‘but the again what do I know?’

Why do we need certainty? Trust implies a degree of uncertainty. The apostle Paul once wrote in Romans 8 that in the midst of the suffering and groaning in the world, we ‘hope’. But he says that hope isn’t something we have. It is something we long for with perseverance. And in Hebrews 11:1 we find these words: ‘Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.’ This is true trusting. And many of those whom Paul writes about never received what they hoped for, at least to the point of their deaths. They share in those things with us now.

Ambiguity involves trust and hope more than absolute certainty. Recall what Jesus said to the disciple Thomas after Thomas saw the wounds on Jesus’ body. ‘You believe because you see. How much more blessed are those who believe without seeing.’ That is the nature of ambiguity and trust.

Now some Christians and religious groups feel they need to be certain that they know the way to God. But Jesus is the only one who knows that way for he IS the way the truth and the life; he invites us to trust him to bring us into the Kingdom of the Father right here and for all eternity.

We would be more relaxed in our Christianity if we just allowed the ambiguity to exist and instead trusted God, say, the way Dietrich Bonhoeffer did in the times of Nazi Germany. Here’ is the way he describes his faith and life not long before he was executed by the Gestapo.

Who Am I?

Who am I? They often tell me;
I come out of my cell
Calmly, cheerfully, resolutely,
Like a lord from his palace.

Who am I? They often tell me,
I used to speak to my warders
Freely and friendly and clearly,
As though it were mine to command.

Who am I? They also tell me,
I carried the days of misfortune
Equably, smilingly, proudly,
like one who is used to winning.

Am I really then what others say of me?
Or am I only what I know of myself?
Restless, melancholic, and ill, like a caged bird,
Struggling for breath, as if hands clasped my throat,
Hungry for colors, for flowers, for the songs of birds,
Thirsty for friendly words and human kindness,
Shaking with anger at fate and at the smallest sickness,
Trembling for friends at an infinite distance,
Tired and empty at praying, at thinking, at doing,
Drained and ready to say goodbye to it all.

Who am I? This or the other?
Am I one person today and another tomorrow?
Am I both at once? In front of others, a hypocrite,
And to myself a contemptible, fretting weakling?
Or is something still in me like a battered army,
running in disorder from a victory already achieved?
Who am I? These lonely questions mock me.
Whoever I am, You know me; I am yours, O God.

 

The last line sets the tone for our life. Though we don’t often understand much. What we do trust more than anything is that God knows we are HIS.

And the Bible. The Bible is not a rulebook. It is a relationship book. It is more like a book on the languages of love than Robert’s Rules of Order. And being a book of relationship it is filled with grey areas that are left up to the individual or group to discern what God’s will is for any given moment. The Bible is a history of God’s love for his creation and creatures and his longing for us. Love is never black and white and to want it to be so is to live by the knowledge of good and evil rather than in communion with God. And we know how that played out back in the Garden.

John Polkinghorne, a Christian and a scientist, writes these words:

The tapestry of life is not colored in simple black and white, representing an unambiguous choice between the unequivocally bad and the unequivocally good. The ambiguity of human deeds and desires means that life includes many shades of grey. What is true of life in general is true also of the Bible in particular. An honest reading of Scripture will acknowledge the presence in its pages of various kinds of ambiguity.

Regard Abraham and his uncertainty about his role as the Father of many nations. Jacob wrestled with God. Moses never really knew what he had gotten himself into. David’s ambiguities pervade the Psalms not knowing at times whether God would save him or leave him to die.

Perhaps we can learn from Jesus’ own ambiguity in Gethsemane when he asked his Father to relieve him of this dreaded death but conclude, ‘Thy will be done.’

Let me conclude by saying that ambiguity is a gift from God, an opportunity for trust and yes, even impulse at time. It is an occasion for prayer, prayer to trust, a prayer to seek God, a prayer to never grow complacent in the boring black and white of law but rather in relationship to Jesus Christ.

By the way, I love the words of U:

 

I have climbed the highest mountains

I have run through the fields

Only to be with you
Only to be with you.

I have run, I have crawled
I have scaled these city walls
These city walls
Only to be with you.

But I still haven’t found
What I’m looking for.
But I still haven’t found
What I’m looking for.

I have kissed honey lips
Felt the healing in her finger tips
It burned like fire
A burning desire.

I have spoke with the tongue of angels
I have held the hand of a devil
It was warm in the night
I was cold as a stone.

But I still haven’t found
What I’m looking for.
But I still haven’t found
What I’m looking for.

I believe in the Kingdom Come
Then all the colors will bleed into one
Bleed into one.
But yes, I’m still running.

You broke the bonds
And you loosed the chains
Carried the cross of my shame
Oh my shame, you know I believe it.

But I still haven’t found
What I’m looking for.
But I still haven’t found
What I’m looking for.
I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For lyrics©Universal Music Publishing Group

 

 

 

 

 

POINT OF CONTACT

My friend, Larry, says that everyone has a point of contact with God. Somehow and at sometimes there is a way that humans want to touch God. The old saying that ‘there are no atheists in foxholes’ has some merit. People need God. They may call God by another name, higher power, the one upstairs and they may even worship an idol to reach out to God as seen in Acts 17 nonetheless somehow people stop looking inward and they look outward.

Take the woman in Luke 8 who has a serious bleeding problem that has persisted for years and through the care of many doctors but there is still no relief. This would have been an amazing story for Luke to tell since he WAS a physician.

The woman comes up behind Jesus just to get close enough to perhaps touch him in HOPE that some healing might come to her. And as she touches the fringe of Jesus’ robe Jesus himself experiences power going out from him and the woman is healed.

Just a touch, a point of contact. A prayer of help. A baptism. A wedding. An hospital visit. A telephone call. A word of encouragement. Who knows how that point of contact will bring healing and salvation to a soul in need?

You and I are the body of Christ. We wear the garment that people want to touch. Let’s find ways for them to find Jesus in us.

BACK TO THE GARDEN

Back to the Garden

So, I am not really sure how evil got here. Oh, I know about the fallen angel, about the serpent, about the disobedience of our first parents and subsequent rebellion of humanity to God and how death and destruction has pervaded the world ever since. But concepts like original evil elude me.

What I do know is that since the coming of Christ we are making our way back to Eden not driven farther from it. There may be an allusion to this idea even back in Psalm One. I print it here from the MESSAGE paraphrase:

 

  • You’re a tree replanted in Eden,
  • bearing fresh fruit every month, Never dropping a leaf, always in blossom.

This is from the Psalm that speaks about staying close to God and to God’s word. The word ‘Eden’ is not in the original translation but the idea remains that we who now place our confidence in Christ and obey his commands are really ‘like those trees planted by the rivers’ and later in Revelation will see the completion of that vision. Revelation 22:

 

The River of Life
1Then he showed me a river of the water of life, clear as crystal, coming from the throne of God and of the Lamb, 2in the middle of its street. On either side of the river was the tree of life, bearing twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit every month; and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations…

Read how Paul puts it in 2Corinthians5 (NIV):

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!

In one place in Ephesians 2:6 Paul writes that we are seated with Christ in the Kingdom of God, in Heaven. That’s our position and from that position we bear fruit for him.

The Resurrection of Christ is proof of the Eden to which are returning and wherever and whenever the presence of Christ breaks into our lives, the Kingdom is there, and Eden’s rivers run strong. Whenever evil is overcome by good, there is Eden. Where reconciliation takes place the fruit of Eden becomes a witness to the world.

I am afraid that America as a whole is not Eden, nor is it on the way to Eden as long as the nation maintains its level of violence against anyone. Recall how Jesus overcame evil. And maybe most people don’t really care about Eden but I believe that the church, where the church proclaims good and places its confidence in Christ, cannot be held back from

Eden and not even the gates of hell can stop the progress of the church especially where the church and Christians are so badly persecuted.And the hurting people of the world may be the first find Eden.

Eden’s guardian angels are letting God’s people back to paradise. Some of us can see it now in front of us. Some are yearning for the day but fear not says God for God is making all things new and restoring God’s creation. Let us pray, worship and work for the day when God’s grace will lead the way back.

OPTIMISM

There is an ethos throughout the Bible of optimism, of seeing and believing the best, a sense of knowing that this universe is in good hands, that we are in good hands. How does the Bible say it? ‘Underneath us are the everlasting arms.’ (Deut. 33:27) As God provided for the Israel nation he provides for his creation. He establishes us as his people. He has given us his word to light our path and his son to bring us into a new covenant through the sacrifice of Christ.
We could look at this world of ours and find plenty of reason to be despondent, and hopeless except for the return of Christ but I dare say that even in this life, the now life, our God is with us. He who cares for the birds and flowers has promised  to care for you and me.
If heaven were our only goal then Jesus could have announced it to Adam and Eve and saved a lot of human history. But God was and is and will be looking for humans to grow into relationship with him in order to share in his eternal life as the trinity. This world is the training ground for eternal life. Some are spared this training by the will of God and some endure a living hell but the thing to remember is that God knows how it all turns out to our good. And that truth gives us hope and a confidence to live each day with God. Living with God is the most optimistic way to endure and even thrive.
Read what a man in World War II has to write:

By Jürgen Moltmann

“This was the saving experience of my life. It was 1944, at the end of World War II. As a boy of 18 years, I was drafted into the German army. In February 1945, I was taken prisoner of war and spent more than three years behind barbed wire in Belgium, Scotland and England. April 1948, I was repatriated.

At the beginning of my imprisonment, I felt completely Godforsaken. I lost all hope; all interest in life faded away. The dark night of the soul came upon me and I felt that last temptation of all who are imprisoned, to give myself up–to die the death of the soul first, and then to the death of the body. 

My turn from this sickness unto death to new hope and new life came about through two things: first through the Bible, and then through the kindness of the Scottish workers and their families towards the prisoners, their former enemies. At the end of 1945, a well-meaning British army chaplain visited our camp and distributed Bibles to the prisoners. Because I came from a secular family in Hamburg, this was the first Bible in my life. Some of us wondered and would rather have had a few cigarettes. I started reading without much interest until I stumbled on the Psalms of lament. Psalm 39 held me spellbound:

“I was dumb with silence, I held my peace and my sorrow was stirred. I have to eat up my suffering within myself. My lifetime is as nothing in Thy sight. I am a stranger with Thee, and a sojourner, as all my fathers were.”

They were words of my own heart and they called my soul to God. Later I read the Gospel of Mark. When I came to the story of the passion and read Jesus’ death cry, “My God, why have you forsaken me,” I knew with certainty, “This is the One who understands you.” I began to understand the assailed Jesus because I felt that He understood me in my God-forsakenness; He is the divine Brother in distress, who takes the prisoners with Him on the way to resurrection and life. I began to summon up the courage to live again, seized by a great hope. This early fellowship with Jesus, the Brother in suffering and the Redeemer from guilt, has never left me since. I am sure that there and then, in the dark pit of my soul, He found me. Jesus’ Godforsakenness on the cross showed me where God is in my forsakenness, where He had been in my life before, and would be in the future. The suffering God saved me in my sufferings.”

This is the reason for optimism, because Jesus has been there and is there for us. Jesus leads the way and lends the hand to each one of us. Jesus turns the atheist into a friend of God. Jesus reconciles the enemies of God.

We have not trusted Jesus enough. Not given him the chance he died to have in our lives. He is not just the Savior who somehow gets us into heaven but he is the Lord of life who lives his life with us moment by moment. He gives us a new heart, new eyes, a new ethic and a new way to live each day.

He still brings healing and hope because he is the Lord of this whole creation. I didn’t say a church was or any doctrine but Jesus himself. It’s impossible to read his words and not understand that he ‘has our backs’ as they say.