Grace and peace

A humble cartoon takes my experience in this world – in the great pretzel that is 2020/2021 – and renders it perfectly in the visual.

We live in an age of Byzantine technicalities…this must be certified, reference number please, this must come from your registered e-mail address, that attested to, each page initialed, more passwords and legislation than sand on the seashore in Dubai.

I’m trying to get all the technical and proper things done, getting my deliveries from ACME, and like Wile Coyote, just cannot get my hands on the Road Runner. Compliance is always out of reach, because there is always something else that has to be done. Obstacles, money, time, research.

I know how the coyote felt, hair singed from boom sticks, whistling through the air to the hard desert floor, and making a hole.

Its amazing the talent of cartoon artists, drawing the coyote with a look of exasperation and self pity that would be familiar to the rest of the human race.

Obviously, this is not a place of peace.

It hasn’t been for some time.

And yet, what peace there is, what snippets and brief moments of it lay down in my weary brain, come from Scripture…reading it, listening to it preached, or put into lyrics and sung.

Reading through the book of Acts this week, I read of Paul, Silas and Timothy in the city of Corinth. In the middle of a missionary journey, Paul puts down roots in Corinth because the Lord spoke to him in a vision.

https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Acts+18%3A9+-+16&version=NIV

A lot of people will listen to the message of the gospel, but equally, a lot of people will get their knickers in a knot.

Now, it wasn’t just because Paul elicited a response from people, it was the Message that he preached (the gospel) and as happened in many previous towns, Paul was brought before authorities by local Jews who just could not deal with him.

They brought him before the proconsul Gallio, who as a Gentile, had no interest in the accusations they were levelling at Paul. It wasn’t Roman law that they were going on about, but ‘questions about words and names’ and the Jewish law, religious things that were of no interest to Rome.

Paul didn’t even get a chance to speak, because Gallio had them ejected from the court. They tried to get a reaction out of Gallio by beating up the synagogue leader Sosthenes in front of him. To which the response was a yawn.

Violence seems to be of only detached concern to authorities until there is a riot, and therefore a threat to their hegemony.

All the setbacks (and the highs as well as the lows) experienced by Paul, and Sosthenes, and everybody in the church in Corinth. Paul writes:

“Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”

https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=1+Corinthians+1%3A1+-+3&version=NIV

Maybe its the same when the setbacks aren’t personal or in opposition to the gospel. Maybe, when you’re the coyote and the Road Runner is running circles around you, there is no peace apart from the grace (and from that grace, the peace) that come from the Father and the Son.

“Grace is always first, peace always second. This is due to the fact that grace is the source of peace. Without grace there is and can be no peace, but when grace is ours, peace must of necessity follow.”

1 Corinthians Chapter 1

Half

Everyone knows the axiom of two people who view a glass differently. What’s in the glass…water? wine? soda?

An overused metaphor, and if the glass is half full or empty, the metaphor is at least whole.

2019 through 2021 has taken a big gulp out of the already half filled glass, a glass with the liquid version of people I trust, and assumption of good will toward strangers.

The circle of trust has tightened, the liquid in the glass has gone down some. But I don’t want to dump too heavily on human beings, I’m one too.

Speaking of things near empty, if I were a motor vehicle, the tank is in the red. The gasoline is a 95 octane blend of brain power, available funds, compassion, submission, to-do lists.

Unfinished tasks held together by duct tape, scratches and wounds patched with band-aids, unfinished thoughts, unfinished blog posts, meandering prayers, a blizzard of demands without the ability to identify which snowflake should be attended to first.

I bet I’m not the only one.

As I was walking the black dog on a Stygian, cold morning this week, it occurred to me that one of the big differences between me and God (and there is a veritable encyclopedia of entries as to how more elevated God is than me), is that He finishes what he starts.

He is the Alpha and the Omega. I mean, apropos the Greek alphabet, the hysteria about corona virus is hyping the lambda variant. I doubt corona would get to the designation ‘omega’ in a meaningful form.

But God finishes things, and finishing is important to Him. He doesn’t say to the servant ‘well half-done’ or ‘well almost-done’. He says ‘well done’.

Of course we can never earn that acknowledgement from God on our own.

My powerelessness is never on more obvious display to me than when I pray for needs. What to do about the list of problems? Ill health, grief, brethren in despair or suffering under persecution, loss of income, curtailment of freedoms, unsaved human beings, and the list goes on.

Its a cold day in July, not a soul around except for the dog nosing around the nearest tree.

Suddenly a verse, a song: ‘Salvation belongs to our God, who sits upon the throne!’

https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Revelation+7%3A9+-+11&version=NIV

Salvation is probably the thing I’m most unable to do, for myself, or anyone else. That is the whole point of the gospel of grace.

And I think of Paul’s letter to the Believers in Philippi, and his introduction where he assures them that God started a good work in them, and will finish it. The late Eugene Peterson styled it that God will do it with a flourish. With style.

https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Philippians+1%3A6&version=NIV

I’m half.

Birthright

“Let us live and strive for freedom, in South Africa our land!”

Those and other words will be sung in the coming weeks as the British & Irish Lions face off against South Africa in a tournament that only happens once every 12 years (from the South African perspective).

Untrue words. Mere rhetoric.

Freedom. Free speech. Free thought. Is that Biblical? Is that Christian?

Beyond just an American perspective this 4th of July, yes, I believe that freedom, free speech and free thought is of God. The framers of the Declaration of Independence:

“We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness…”

In the beginning, when God created the universe and then man, before the fall, before creation was marred by sin, He gave Adam dominion over the earth and the animals.

https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Genesis+1%3A27+-+31&version=NIV

There was no hint that mankind should have dominion over his fellow man, and rule over him. Of course, the original state of things is changed somewhat since the Fall.

Spiritually, I long for fellowship with God.

Experientially, I long for freedom, as much freedom as I can get.

470 days of enforced lockdown is more injurious to me, my family, and my countrymen than any pathogen could ever be. Not quite the same as 450 years of slavery in Egypt, but I was reading this week of the children of Israel. Giddy with the freshness of liberty after leaving Egypt (kind of like their independence day), only to be confronted with the pursuing Egyptian army and ‘certain’ death.

https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Exodus+14%3A10+-+14&version=NIV

They cried out to the Lord (good) and then immediately turned on Moses (not good), sarcastically asking whether there weren’t enough graves in Egypt, whether Moses’ plan was to take them out to the middle of nowhere so as to establish a new cemetery. Egypt was synonymous with graves, crypts and burial chambers, so their sarcasm came across pretty thick.

Moses told them: “Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you today. The Egyptians you see today you will never see again. The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.”

Honestly, would I have refrained from dishing out sarcasm to Moses? Probably not.

Would I have called out to the Lord? Probably. Would I have been still and just trusted Him? Not unless this were a sanitised version of reality.

I would have smart-mouthed the Egyptians if they were in earshot.

I long for my birthright of liberty. I long to be out from under Pharaoh’s decrees, conceived in spite and indifference.

But I have no weapon except a sharp, sinful, very sarcastic tongue. But on the other hand I do have a God who will do what is right.

And I must trust Him.

https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/life-liberty-and-the-pursuit-of-happiness

https://amgreatness.com/2021/07/01/of-rights-and-laws/