what does Jesus say? (not, what does the Bible say?)

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’[h] 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

Ever since I prayed to know the Lord better, to know him at all it seemed to me, shortly thereafter I’ve been undergoing a slow revolution. It’s liberating, but difficult on a number of levels. One of them is to reject all the more what’s called a flat Bible. 

By a flat Bible, I mean the tendency to want to see a straight correlation between any passage and us today. At the same time there is some application we can receive from any given passage, even if it’s remote and indirect. But to get there, we Christians have to see everything in the context of what Jesus taught, and the revelation that Jesus brings in his fulfillment of all things. The difference that makes, and it does make a marked and even contrasting difference at certain points.

For example consider the woman caught in the act of adultery. Wasn’t the man there, too? But that’s another issue, yet relevant when you consider Jesus’s life and teaching. But to the point: Jesus rejected the Law’s prescription: stoning. Instead he tells the men present that whoever has no sin should cast the first stone. And we know what happened. Beginning with the oldest, they all departed. Then Jesus told the woman to go and sin no more (John 8:1-11). We know that Jesus ends up taking on himself all condemnation, guilt and sin heaped on him at the cross. And because of who he is through that takes on himself what we deserve, so that we’ll never have to receive that ourselves.

Don’t get me wrong, it is important what the Bible says. But as Christians we read every bit of Scripture in light of the revelation of Christ, God’s final word. We have to see everything in light of Christ’s teachings, and his life. It’s the way of the cross for us always, the way of love and forgiveness, the way of mercy and grace in the reality that justice is no longer something Christ followers have to satisfy. That is taken care of in Christ himself. 

All of that to say, this certainly doesn’t make it easy. Easier in a way in that we’re now hopefully walking more squarely in the way of Christ. But harder- given the world, the flesh and the devil. Even for Jesus that way was heaped with ridicule, scorn and eventually the abuse and thorns before the cross. That is the way for us as well.

Difficult to understand. Yes. We need the Spirit’s help. Even more difficult to live, though again through the Spirit we can begin to walk in these steps. As we seek to read and understand all of Scripture in the light of Jesus. In and through him.

ending well

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

None of us should compare ourselves with the Apostle Paul, and I don’t belong with him in the same breath at all, of course. But Paul’s words here does seem to include all the rest of us, when you see how they end. And we are told elsewhere to follow his example as he follows Christ. So we can find solace and hope there.

Like Paul, then, we can live out our lives for Christ, for others, even for our enemies, and through the most difficult of times fully. Akin to “being poured out like a drink offering” to God. Realizing that we indeed are in a fight, the good fight, elsewhere the good fight of the faith. That we are in a race no less. And that we’re to keep or hold on to the faith.

I think it’s as simple as that. We’re not to be Apostle Pauls going everywhere preaching the gospel, planting churches, etc. But we’re to be what God has called each one of us individually to be within the community of faith. We simply need to be a light in the way God purposes for us as individuals with all the other lights. When you look at the rest of Paul’s letters, that will be evident.

We want things to be better now, but we long for Christ’s appearing when what’s wrong will be judged, and all the wrongs set right. And when the new will be completely present. Something we begin to taste now, which whets our appetites. In a way we can’t wait. But we settle in now, wanting to end well. To finish like Paul did. May God grant that. In and through Jesus.

reaching out to the Lord’s commands

I reach out for your commands, which I love,
that I may meditate on your decrees.

Psalm 119:48

I love the idea here of reaching out to God’s commands out of love for them. When you read Psalm 119 as a whole, it’s a mix between a commitment to full obedience and the realization that the psalmist falls short. And you can find dependence on God and God’s mercy and grace in it.

How do we reach out to God’s commands? I think we as followers of Jesus should start with Jesus’s commands and go from there. We have to go to the gospel accounts: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, and a good place to start is Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount. We have to be committed to meditation on them, to get them into our heart and bones, to aspire to them, and to begin to live them out.

There has to be the passion present that this indeed is what we want to do. We have to be wannabes before those things can take root and become a part of who we truly are. The above line suggests that we reach out so that we might meditate. We have to be aware of God’s will for us before we can begin to live in that will.

For us now in and through Jesus.

 

in the midst of all the din- the continuous noise, follow the good Shepherd

The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger’s voice.

John 10:2-5

I am amazed today at how caught up Christians are in the political mess. It’s like we’re taken up into the maelstrom and chaos, and we become part of it, frankly part of the problem, at least all too often. We can see this on media networks such as Facebook. And it’s not like I’m immune to this. Given the fact that I have a teaching bent, and tend to confront what I consider wrong, I am definitely vulnerable to getting caught up in this myself in ways that are not healthy, or even helpful. That’s a struggle for me. Maybe in my case it’s more a matter of how I do it, rather than wondering if I should do it at all. But regardless of who we are with our differences, we as followers of Christ need to do precisely that, endeavor to be following him.

To do that we need to be listening to his voice. And with other sheep. That is a challenge during this time of pandemic. It’s always been a challenge, and from what I’ve seen and experienced, Christians overall are not that good at this. We often don’t listen well, nor do so together. And when we do listen, we fail to keep all of Jesus’s words in front of us. Our mistaken theology might keep us from considering passages like Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7). If we’re to follow Jesus then we need to be in the gospel accounts of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John along with the rest of the New Testament, and then seeking to read the rest of the Bible in light of that.

We must leave the noisy din of this world behind us. It’s not like we should withdraw and not be involved at all. But at times we indeed should shut the noise off and take a break from it all. It ends up being a matter of just how we engage. Are we doing so intent on continuing to hear the good Shepherd’s voice? And ready at a moment’s notice to take a different path?

Just because something has some value doesn’t mean we’re to give ourselves to it. Instead we need to listen to the one voice, and set ourselves to be followers of the good Shepherd. Along with other sheep. In and through Jesus.

the importance of Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount

“Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.”

Matthew 7:24-27

It’s amazing what I’ve seen in my lifetime, how the Sermon on the Mount in one way or another is pushed to the side as being irrelevant for the present day. It’s been said it’s for the kingdom age to come. Or it was only for the time Jesus was proclaiming it. Or that it’s law not grace, given only to help people know they can’t do any of what Jesus teaches, so that they’ll accept God’s grace in forgiveness of their sins through Christ’s sacrificial death.

But Jesus says that those who follow his teaching by putting it into practice are like the wise man who built his house on rock unlike those who fail to follow his teaching, they being like the foolish man who built his house on sand. And the rest of the New Testament echoes what Jesus taught, so that it’s evident the early church took the Sermon on the Mount quite seriously.

The Sermon on the Mount deals with heart issues. The religious leaders Jesus critiqued were all about doing certain religious rituals scrupulously, but utterly failed in their hearts. So Jesus’s sermon gets to the heart of things on specific issues.

I was raised in a church of a denomination which traditionally considers the Sermon on the Mount central to their teaching. I left that church fairly early on in my Christian life, influenced by someone to go another direction. But some years later I returned to something of that emphasis. But not being near a church which teaches that didn’t help me remain in it. That is still the case, though I know there are Christians sprinkled in different churches who more or less hold to the sermon’s importance.

Not long ago I prayed I might know Christ better. And that’s when an emphasis on the Sermon on the Mount came into my consciousness again, along with Jesus’s teaching about cross bearing. Paul’s words in Philippians 3:10, his desire to be like Jesus in his death.

Another reason the Sermon on the Mount began to take on a renewed, new significance to me is because I found attitudes in myself that were not helpful. I knew I must not harbor anger and disgust at others. And that I must forgive. So there was also an element of necessity in the recent change for me.

It’s not like the Sermon on the Mount is the route to success or the breakthrough into “the deeper Christian life.” It’s definitely not easy because we have so much to unlearn, along with much needed change. So we need to be patient and plod on. Intent on following Jesus by listening to him, and seeking to practice what he taught and did. The Sermon on the Mount being a good place to start.

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.

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.

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