John 7:20-26 That They May All Be One

15 05 2013

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(Jesus said:) “I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.  The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. Father, I desire that those also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory, which you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.

 “Righteous Father, the world does not know you, but I know you; and these know that you have sent me. I made your name known to them, and I will make it known, so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.” John 7:20-26 (NRSV)

I can say I’m probably not a likely poster child for ecumenism as I’m pretty set in my traditions, and I do believe correct theology is important.  However, Jesus Himself asks that believers will be one united body of believers, which is a tall order.

Some Christian groups believe in separating themselves from the rest of the world.  To a degree I can see the merit in that, but an extreme condition of separation can give rise to a superiority mentality, that we are the “clean, good, moral” people and everyone else is scummy or untouchable.

Other groups are so politically correct that their aim is not to “offend” anyone, so their brand of Christianity is so watered down that nobody gets told the hard truths and no one is challenged to take up their cross and follow Jesus.  It’s easy to be a Christian if it’s all about social gatherings and pretty music.

dana carvey church lady

The real deal is a lot more complicated than either pious separation and stringent morality rules or feel-good be nice to everyone platitudes.  Both Dana Carvey as the Church Lady and “Buddy Christ” miss the mark.

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Living the Christian life is messy.  It’s real. Following Jesus means being willing to cross boundaries, to forgive when we’ve been hurt, and to open our hearts to those who the rest of the world has given up on.  Even so, sometimes showing grace and love to other Christians is the most difficult thing to do- like siblings we in-fight and argue about matters of doctrine or practice that may be important, but usually aren’t essential. I can’t say I agree with some things that other traditions teach, or even some
positions held by some within the Lutheran tradition itself, but I can embrace a fellow believer. I can agree to love and pray for fellow Christians. On non-essential doctrine, (meaning pretty much anything outside the realm of the statement of faith in the Apostle’s Creed) I can agree to disagree.

There is right and wrong, joy and pain, love and discipline, and all of these things are part of the package.  It is true that by God’s grace we have freedom, but it is also true that with freedom comes responsibility and accountability.  We have to live with the Holy Spirit, Who speaks through our conscience, and at the end of days we will stand before Christ and He will be our Judge.   When a child is baptized and the pastor says the words, “You are marked with the Cross of Christ forever,” or when a person is drawn to Christ through another means of grace, it means that person belongs to God- open not only to God’s salvation and blessing, but also to His discipline and His correction.  A child of God will not live a perfect life and will not be sin-free, but a child of God will not be satisfied with life in the pig pen.  He or she will long for the Father’s House.   The thing is, we have no way of knowing who is a native of the pig pen, and who is a child of God taking a sojourn in the pig pen.

Therefore, the default for us should be to see everyone as children of God regardless of where they might be right now.  Who knows if God is putting us in the same place He put Ananias?

The apostle Paul touches on the concept of accepting and living with believers who practice differently or who observe different traditions in Romans 14:

“Welcome those who are weak in faith, but not for the purpose of quarreling over opinions.  Some believe in eating anything, while the weak eat only vegetables.  Those who eat must not despise those who abstain, and those who abstain must not pass judgment on those who eat; for God has welcomed them. Who are you to pass judgment on servants of another? It is before their own lord that they stand or fall. And they will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make them stand.

Some judge one day to be better than another, while others judge all days to be alike. Let all be fully convinced in their own minds.Those who observe the day, observe it in honor of the Lord. Also those who eat, eat in honor of the Lord, since they give thanks to God; while those who abstain, abstain in honor of the Lord and give thanks to God.

We do not live to ourselves, and we do not die to ourselves.  If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s.For to this end Christ died and lived again, so that he might be Lord of both the dead and the living.

 Why do you pass judgment on your brother or sister? Or you, why do you despise your brother or sister? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God. For it is written,

“As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall give praise to God.”

So then, each of us will be accountable to God.” Romans 14:1-12 (NRSV)

I think we will be judged more thoroughly on how we loved than on whether or not we played by all the rules.

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2 Timothy 4:1-8 Itching Ears and the Crown of Righteousness

8 05 2013

 

What-I-Want

In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I solemnly urge you: proclaim the message; be persistent whether the time is favorable or unfavorable; convince, rebuke, and encourage, with the utmost patience in teaching. For the time is coming when people will not put up with sound doctrine, but having itching ears, they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own desires, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander away to myths. As for you, always be sober, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, carry out your ministry fully. 2 Timothy 4:1-4 (NRSV) 

I’d have to say that the time is already here where people won’t listen to sound doctrine, and that there are plenty of teachers and preachers out there catering to the itching ear crowd.  I’m not the one to go out there with Chick Tracts or to scare the bejezus out of people with fear of hellfire.  I do believe in a real, literal hell, but I also understand that fear of hell doesn’t save- only the grace of God in Christ does.

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This being said, a Christian pastor who is doing his job isn’t always going to be popular, and the sermon should make you squirm from time to time.  I can’t say that I agree with everything that comes down from the pulpit, especially when it challenges my understanding of orthodoxy, but I do understand that the pastor’s job is to preach, teach and challenge me.  If what he (they) is (are) saying doesn’t inspire serious prayer, study and reflection- even if I still don’t agree- then either I’m not listening to the pastor, or the pastor is afraid to get me where I live.   I am thankful that for the most part the pastors at my church aren’t afraid to tell it like it is and they aren’t afraid of “offending” anyone.  “Christian” is not a synonym for “nice.”

Sometimes being nice is un-Christian, especially when it is necessary to tell that truth or give that wake-up call.

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I pray that the Holy Spirit will give me the discernment to accept right doctrine even when it seems contrary to my notions of orthodoxy, even when it’s not comfortable because it calls me out on my own sin, and to remind me that I’m not a dog.  I don’t need my ears scratched.  I need the truth, even when it hits me where I live.  Even when it offends.

“As for me, I am already being poured out as a libation, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. From now on there is reserved for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will give me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have longed for his appearing.” 2 Timothy 4:4-8 (NRSV)

righteous

At first I had to wonder what Paul was getting at, but looking a little bit deeper we can see throughout Paul’s letters that he insists that righteousness is something that:
a.) Does not come from observing the law or by our own good works.
Is the law then opposed to the promises of God? Certainly not! For if a law had been given that could make alive, then righteousness would indeed come through the law.But the scripture has imprisoned all things under the power of sin, so that what was promised through faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.” Galatians 3:21-22 (NRSV)
b.) Is found only in the mercy and the grace of God in Christ.
“Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ. More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith. I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death,if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead.” Philippians 3:7-11 (NRSV)
 
“But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of any works of righteousness that we had done, but according to his mercy, through the water of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit. This Spirit he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.” Titus 3:4-7 (NRSV)
So the good works that we do are merely the good works that God created us to do and that God gave us the resources to do.
“I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ.” Philippians 1:6 (NRSV)
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us,looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.
Consider him who endured such hostility against himself from sinners, so that you may not grow weary or lose heart.” Hebrews 12:1-3 (NRSV)
run race
Now if you really want to get into something weird in Revelation (and now that I found it, I’ll probably have to keep digging…) check this out:
And whenever the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to the one who is seated on the throne, who lives forever and ever, the twenty-four elders fall before the one who is seated on the throne and worship the one who lives forever and ever; they cast their crowns before the throne, singing,
‘You are worthy, our Lord and God,
to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things,
and by your will they existed and were created.'” Revelation 4:9-11 (NRSV)
 
I understand that Revelation is apocalyptic literature, and therefore there is a great deal of symbolism and allegory to be had in that particular book.  There are many groups who have theories (here’s one of the more theologically sound ones) as to who the twenty-four elders refer to.  You can pretty much disregard the ones that involve monsters and space aliens, unless of course, you’re into that.  I’m not much into literal interpretations of Revelation or way-out versions of end-time prophesy, but what I take from this passage is that everything that the “great” people of God ever had came from God and all the glory goes back to God- and that worship is infectious. (in a good way of course.)




2 Corinthians 12:7(b)-9 You Might Not Get What You Want (But It May Be What You Need)

1 05 2013

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“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.” 2 Corinthians 12:7(b)-9 (NRSV)

Sometimes God’s answer is no.  Even when it doesn’t make sense.  Especially when it doesn’t make sense.

Every little kid can remember what seemed to be lofty, important prayers at the time, raised up to God-

Please make the other kids stop tormenting me

Please don’t let my grandmother die

Please bring my dog home, she didn’t mean to run away

but it seemed like God didn’t hear.

bullying

The other kids didn’t stop tormenting me, at least not until I befriended people who made sure that my former tormentors got theirs.  My grandmother died, and my dog never came home.  Where was God in that?  Is God all-knowing, all-powerful and all that?  Does God enjoy playing games with pitiful, helpless humanity?

A better example of what some might see as the callousness or capriciousness of God happened to my sister over 15 years ago.  She was happily married to the love of her life.  They had two beautiful children.  They loved God and belonged to a small, rural Southern Baptist church that was somewhat close to their farmhouse in the middle of nowhere.  They had an idyllic life and seemed to be set up for years of happiness.

Until the ice storm.  For whatever reason my brother-in-law decided to brave the storm and go ahead and take the kids to the sitter and go to work.  It was his last mistake.  There was a railroad track just down the road from their house.  The ice storm was so severe and visibility was so bad he didn’t see the train in time to stop.  He was killed instantly, and my niece (age four) was sitting in the front seat.  She died from her injuries later that afternoon.  My nephew was only 11 months old and was in a car seat.  He ended up with only minor bruising and a slight concussion.

Her life would never be the same.

I asked more than once, God, do you exist at all?  To her credit, and by God’s grace, my sister held on to Him more tightly.  She never lost her faith, but I sure questioned mine.

It took a very long time for me to get an answer to that question, or at least to accept what God said to His prophet Jeremiah:

“For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.”- Jeremiah 29:11 (NRSV)

Jeremiah didn’t have an easy go of things either.  Not only did he see what was coming, he had to broadcast the bad news as well.  Jeremiah didn’t have a pleasant or easy life, but he was greatly used by God.

The great philosopher and theologian Mick Jagger put it another way:

“You can’t always get what you want

You can’t always get what you want

You can try sometimes, you just might find

You get what you need-“

mick-jagger

We look at our plans in the short term and in the context of a finite, linear world.  God makes His plans in the context of an infinite, all encompassing universe.  We have no way of seeing things from His perspective.   Just as a toddler thinks parents are being cruel with the constant shouts of “NO” or “Don’t Touch!,” sometimes God’s people feel that frustration with our Heavenly Father when He has to say no.  We aren’t able to see God’s aim in our situations, especially when He needs to tell us:

This is for your own good

I need to get you on a different path

I have lessons for you that you need to learn

I’m not letting your ego get in My way

I’m generally not a good one with having a dependence mentality, but the fact is we are all completely dependent upon God for everything, for even something as simple and taken for granted as breath.

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I’m not going to pretend that I understand the existence and the purpose of evil.  I struggle with the concept that if God is omnipotent and omnipresent, He has to be in, with and through what we would call good as well as in, with and through what we call evil or tragic.

I have an equally hard time with those who say that God is only in the good things of life and not the bad things.  If this is so, then why did Jesus weep when he learned His friend Lazarus was dead?  If God is only in the sunshine and flowers, does it mean anything in the 23rd Psalm when the psalmist asserts that God’s rod and staff comfort him in the valley of the shadow of death?

I don’t understand.  I don’t claim to know why evil exists and tragedy happens, but I thank God that He is there in the midst of it.