what difference is there in Christianity???

I’ve been wondering lately about the Christian presence in the world. It’s in the headlines quite often lately, evangelical Christian leaders speaking out on politics. There’s much astir. You start to wonder if being a Christian involves a big emphasis on a particular brand of politics. And what you see and hear from political leaders seems to be the same air these Christians breathe.

I’ve also been wondering lately just where the Jesus community really is? You can go to any number of places and hear a good sermon, message, conversation, whatever they call it. And with worship music skillfully done. But is what’s being formed there Christian? What difference does it make? Is there any distinction between that and what we might find elsewhere in the world. Sometimes I’ve honestly wondered.

When Christians seem to indicate that everything is at stake like in the upcoming election, then I’m not seeing any difference. Christians seem to be just another power player. But if I can see people humbly trying to follow Christ, his words and example, if I see something of that, that’s when my despair begins to lift, and a little hope sets in.

The church is not supposed to be a power player in the world. It should be sensitive to issues especially when the lives and good of people are at stake. To speak up humbly yet firmly and resolutely on issues like racism along with other issues is certainly more than fine, but necessary. And there is rightfully what’s called “the politics of Jesus” (see Matthew 5-7, etc.).

There’s only one difference in Christianity, one and really no more. And if other things become prominent, then that’s a sign that difference might be all but lost. That one difference is Christ. Not just Christ and Christ alone as in saving us. But Christ present with us in all of our humility and brokenness. Christ present to us for each other in the church, and for the blessing of the world in doing good works of love. Jesus. Read the gospel accounts along with the rest of the New Testament, and this will become clear.

Christ is the difference. Period. Nothing more, nothing less. Along with the distinctions that will follow. There might be plenty of rubbish to clear out of the way.

“this too shall pass”

My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.

James 1:19-20

“This too shall pass” is a Persian proverb, and common in wisdom literature. And certainly said at least indirectly again and again in Scripture. We live in a day when headlines are hot day after day, and people are hot, angry and upset. That’s the whole goal of some, and the something which is behind that. To get people all hot and bothered, and really a matter of control for confrontation, showdown for a good butt-kicking. I know that’s crude, but it’s an especially crude time in which we live. Even if we “kicked butt” what good would that do? We end being caught up into the same catastrophe.

James gives us much needed help here. Our natural fallen human response is to react in anger to whatever the provocation might be. To be carried along a certain track, manipulated as it were, almost like puppets. Instead James tells us that we need to be quick to listen and slow to speak. Those two need to be held together. We always have a response to perceived evil. Instead we’re to listen. Yes, listen, not speak. Can’t do both at the same time. And we’re to be slow to become angry. Anger just breeds more anger, not only in us, but in those who are upsetting to us. James goes on to tell us what we need to do instead.

Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you.

James 1:21

In essence, we need to keep listening not just to others, but to God. And respond as God would have us. We do that by responding to God’s written word, as well as by hearing his voice. That requires ongoing listening and effort on our part.

This takes discipline and time. Yes, time. Commitment. It’s not a snap of the finger, simply fixing something matter. But remember, and we’re going have to keep remembering: “This too shall pass.”

 

peacemaking in times of strife and division

Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called children of God.

Matthew 5:9

But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.

James 3:17-18

If there’s ever a time during my lifetime when we need the kind of peacemakers Jesus and James were talking about, it’s today. The 1960’s were a challenging time as well. But peacemaking is always vitally important. People are often on edge, and it doesn’t take much for them to become distraught, debilitated, at least distracted from what they have to do. We know this ourselves, since we experience the same thing.

First of all we need to be settled in on the peace God has for us in Christ. It’s a peace through the salvation of the cross, to be lived out in life in the way of the cross, the way of Jesus. We think of the cross in terms of salvation, but we also need to think of it in terms of life, all of life, our own life lived out from day to day on earth. We are in continual need of forgiveness which comes through the cross. But we also are to be continually forgiving others, each other, even our enemies. We would hope that everyone would repent, but if we truly forgive the wrongdoing of others, that might help them be moved by mercy, and repent. The point that Jesus and James, the Lord’s half brother were getting at here is that peacemaking should be something we practice for the good of others.

During the current time in the world with the pandemic, and political unrest, we certainly all have our opinions. We won’t think precisely alike. That’s important to keep in mind, because peacemaking is not really about getting everyone on the same page to think alike. Instead it’s helping people who think entirely differently, and disagree on possibly serious matters to get along, to accept one another. There is something more important at stake than most of the things humans fight over. But there’s also the necessary shuffling needed if humans are to live well together. There’s no question that some matters are serious, I think of racism, and respect for all of life from the womb to the tomb. But to see our way forward to hopefully a better solution, at least as far as Jesus and James are concerned is not strife, conflict, and maybe out and out war. Instead it’s to bring peace which hopefully brings enough stability into a situation, that people can live together constructively, and hopefully find some harmony.

I know by experience, many years of it, that it’s not easy being a peacemaker when we’re not at peace ourselves, maybe with ourselves or something else. I am learning that I have to discipline myself to live in peace, to refuse to give into the strife in front of me, or even in me. Instead to seek peace both with myself and others. That means I’m willing to submit as in accept some things I won’t like or even agree with. We can’t control others, and if we could, would that be good? Clearly not, if we consider our own lives, our own struggle, and how often we’re mistaken.

I write this with the goal of living more in it. I believe the Lord has helped me to take big steps forward in this in the last months partly out of perceived necessity, and now more and more hopefully out of the conviction that this is what a Jesus follower is to be like, and my desire to be a Jesus follower. So I’m working both on understanding this, and living it out. I have much to learn, but hopefully will continue to make this a major priority of my life. In and through Jesus.

 

reading the Bible through the revelation of Jesus

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’[a] But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.

Matthew 5:38-42

One of the problems Jesus followers have is Jesus’s fulfillment of the Old Testament. It’s not really a problem in itself, but it should end up impacting how we read the Old Testament, indeed how we read the entire Bible. If Jesus conquers in the way portrayed in the Old Testament, blasting his enemies, then that holds good today. We can justify such actions, and even try to Christianize them, put the name of Jesus somehow on them. But if Jesus’s way is the way of the cross involving loving our enemies, praying for them, and doing good to them, then we realize it just doesn’t work to engage in what is called a flat reading of the text, that is to think we can literally apply the Old Testament just the way it’s read. If Jesus didn’t, then as followers of Jesus, we shouldn’t do so either.

living in the moment

Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

Matthew 6:34

Søren Kierkegaard wrote about living fully in the moment, and how that faith is to be understood as far as how we live it out, in that context. I am just beginning to wade into Kirkegaard, so I can’t represent his thought well even on this. But I too believe that we find faith and God’s sufficiency in what we meet each day, the challenges as well as blessings.

That each moment can be full of God is a revelation in and of itself. Faith is not about wallowing in the past with its “what ifs” and regrets. Nor is it about dreading the future, or trying to figure out, even map out what’s ahead. Instead it’s living responsibly and fully in the present.

Jesus tells us that as we make following him and seeking God’s kingdom in him first, we don’t need to worry about anything else. We take one thing at a time, even from our list of many things, yes. I’ve found that I really can’t multi-task. I’m used to juggling, but really we can do only one thing well at a time. And it’s been said that to try to do more than one thing is actually debilitating to us.

There’s plenty on the plate in life. It really does behoove young disciples to try to carve out a lifestyle in which there are less concerns. If you accept what society and the world tells you that you need, your life will be full of many cares, inescapable problems. God meets us where we’re at, so it’s not like we’re abandoned in the midst of all of that. God will help us through as we trust in him moment by moment. Just good if much of that could be avoided so we could concentrate more fully on following Christ.

So that’s what I hope for as I begin a new week. To live more fully, yes fully in each moment. Before God, for God, and yes, even in the many dead spots. To take just one thing at a time. To not worry about the rest. As I hopefully learn more and more about what following Jesus in this life, and in my life means. In and through him.

fond farewell to a week of vacation- Psalm 103

Of David.

Praise the Lord, my soul;
all my inmost being, praise his holy name.
Praise the Lord, my soul,
and forget not all his benefits—
who forgives all your sins
and heals all your diseases,
who redeems your life from the pit
and crowns you with love and compassion,
who satisfies your desires with good things
so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.

The Lord works righteousness
and justice for all the oppressed.

He made known his ways to Moses,
his deeds to the people of Israel:
The Lord is compassionate and gracious,
slow to anger, abounding in love.
He will not always accuse,
nor will he harbor his anger forever;
he does not treat us as our sins deserve
or repay us according to our iniquities.
For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
so great is his love for those who fear him;
as far as the east is from the west,
so far has he removed our transgressions from us.

As a father has compassion on his children,
so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him;
for he knows how we are formed,
he remembers that we are dust.
The life of mortals is like grass,
they flourish like a flower of the field;
the wind blows over it and it is gone,
and its place remembers it no more.
But from everlasting to everlasting
the Lord’s love is with those who fear him,
and his righteousness with their children’s children—
with those who keep his covenant
and remember to obey his precepts.

The Lord has established his throne in heaven,
and his kingdom rules over all.

Praise the Lord, you his angels,
you mighty ones who do his bidding,
who obey his word.
Praise the Lord, all his heavenly hosts,
you his servants who do his will.
Praise the Lord, all his works
everywhere in his dominion.

Praise the Lord, my soul.

Mark 15:33-41

At noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. And at three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”).

When some of those standing near heard this, they said, “Listen, he’s calling Elijah.”

Someone ran, filled a sponge with wine vinegar, put it on a staff, and offered it to Jesus to drink. “Now leave him alone. Let’s see if Elijah comes to take him down,” he said.

With a loud cry, Jesus breathed his last.

The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. And when the centurion, who stood there in front of Jesus, saw how he died, he said, “Surely this man was the Son of God!”

Some women were watching from a distance. Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joseph, and Salome. In Galilee these women had followed him and cared for his needs. Many other women who had come up with him to Jerusalem were also there.

Mark 15:33-41

the salt of the earth, the light of the world, the city on a hill = true followers of Jesus

“You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.

“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.

Matthew 5:13-16

In context these words apply to disciples of Jesus, those who are following him. The key here is not some kind of spiritual experience, but simply the needed commitment and follow through.

What Jesus is referring to here is a different kind of people. Marked, indeed changed by their identity with and in him. They used to be called “Jesus people,” “people of the Book” secondary to that. This impacts everything. How they read the Bible. How they live from day to day in their families, and in their places of work. How they spend their time, their money. How they see the world and live in it. Recognized by their good works.

This is the people who alone are the “city* on a hill,” “the salt” and “light” that the world needs. All because of Jesus. But participants in this. In and through him.

*KJV

living differently

Therefore, since Christ suffered in his body, arm yourselves also with the same attitude, because whoever suffers in the body is done with sin. As a result, they do not live the rest of their earthly lives for evil human desires, but rather for the will of God. For you have spent enough time in the past doing what pagans choose to do—living in debauchery, lust, drunkenness, orgies, carousing and detestable idolatry. They are surprised that you do not join them in their reckless, wild living, and they heap abuse on you. But they will have to give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead. For this is the reason the gospel was preached even to those who are now dead, so that they might be judged according to human standards in regard to the body, but live according to God in regard to the spirit.

1 Peter 4:1-11

What is referred to here is not God-given human desires, but such desires twisted because of sin. Instead we’re to live the rest of our lives for and in the will of God. That’s to be our goal, what characterizes our lives. The norm of how we live from day to day.

We arm ourselves when we’re willing to suffer for God’s will. Christ set the example which we’re to follow in his suffering for us (1 Peter 2:21). We want to avoid any martyr complex. Just living simply according to God’s will as followers of Christ will get us into enough difficulty. Saying no to our own sinful inclinations, and yes to whatever God’s will is. In the way of Christ, in and through him.

 

fighting and longing

For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time for my departure is near. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.

2 Timothy 4:6-8

The Apostle Paul nearing the end of his life summed up something of it with the above the words. When you read of Paul’s life in Scripture both from Acts, and through his letters, especially 2 Corinthians, you see just how true this was. He was indeed in a fight spiritually, and it was Christ-centered in the hope and promise of Christ by God in the Spirit.

I find it easy to lose heart for a number of reasons. For just one thing, I’m not Paul. He may well have been haunted by his past (watch the wonderful film, Paul, Apostle of Christ), but his failure was pre-conversion. For some of us, we’ve had failures post-conversion. Not that we all don’t need grace in forgiveness along the way, for we most certainly do. But it’s easy to lose heart for any number of reasons, and especially so when we’ve gotten off track ourselves.

Encouragingly Paul lumps others with him who simply long for the Lord’s appearing. If we want Christ to return so that this mess will be fixed in God’s final judgment and salvation, at long last this old creation being replaced with the new creation, which includes us and everything else, then we’re in good company for sure. And with that longing, God will put the fight back in us. The fight and the longing seem to go together.

Longing includes the sense of not arriving in this life. If we’re looking for a faith through Christianity that brings us to a sense of having arrived, then we won’t find it. There’s no such thing. For us in Christ the fight and longing go together. We continue to press on, knowing we haven’t arrived. But intent in heading for the goal.

In the end we may not be able to say that we ran the entire race well. But at least we can hopefully say that we finished the race and kept the faith. In and through Jesus.