true religion today

“I hate, I despise your religious festivals;
your assemblies are a stench to me.
Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings,
I will not accept them.
Though you bring choice fellowship offerings,
I will have no regard for them.
Away with the noise of your songs!
I will not listen to the music of your harps.
But let justice roll on like a river,
righteousness like a never-failing stream!”

Amos 5:21-24

Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless. Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.

James 1:26-27

It is a sad time, and a difficult one indeed, worldwide. With the pandemic, and all that has swirled around that, and now with the murder of another black person at the hands of a white person, even one who is supposed to enforce the laws of the land. There’s little wonder over the reaction that has taken place, terribly mistaken as it is, from years and years of pent up frustration and anger and loss of hope.

The anger on all sides is nearly overwhelming. You have Christians on the religious right holding the line steady on abortion being the evil of the day, and too often minimizing other evils, in my opinion, though not always. Then you have Christians on the religious left who too often it seems to me think that a political change can solve the problem. I don’t deny at all that political process and change can’t make a difference.

But what both Amos and James are getting at demands more than religious services with lots of words on how to fix the problem. What seems needed is an underlying passion for justice, and a heart set on making a difference. This goes well beyond politics, how one thinks in terms for example of American politics: left, right, moderate, whatever. It doesn’t leave those behind, and I think there can be good points in them all. But what is at the heart for Christians and for the church is nothing more or less than what Amos and James were getting at.

What is needed is a change of heart that can lead to the other changes needed. And this should be seen in the church, in its care for each other, and for its community and beyond. And it must touch the troubles of the day with the healing hand of Jesus. Our politics of this world should not even enter into the picture. There should be the kingdom of God influence which permeates all we say and do. “The politics of Jesus.” When people look at the church, they should not be able to figure out what American or other national political persuasion we’re of. They should instead think something like, “Wow, these people really love each other and everyone. They care about the poor, the oppressed, the disenfranchised, pregnant women, the unborn, the born, everyone.

I am confident that’s already true across the board. But that’s not seen when we make a big deal out of our American political stance. All that does is alienate others. We should not care ourselves one bit as to where we do stand politically. That’s all beside the point. The wise words of Abraham Lincoln can help us here:

Sir, my concern is not whether God is on our side; my greatest concern is to be on God’s side, for God is always right.

None of us at all are on God’s side. But yes we can be and are, and we need to live accordingly, only in and through Jesus.

 

relationships are priority

Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

Matthew 22:34-40

Depending on our upbringing, circumstances, our own bent, we emphasize certain things. For me it is hard, hopefully thoughtful work. Whatever it might be for any of us, we need to get back to what Jesus said is first priority.

Jesus said that wholehearted love for God, and love for our neighbor as ourselves is more important than anything else, and actually, when we consider it, gives the true meaning to everything else.

When we’re failing to love, we need to put a stop to what we’re doing then and there. And correct that, and make right any wrongs we have done. And learn from that, so that hopefully this truth is impacting and embedding our mind and heart, our lives. That love for God and for others matters above all else. Then we can do whatever needs to be done with that in mind. With the goal to always keep that front and center, no matter what we’re going through, or are up against. In and through Jesus.

heart

Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.

Matthew 5:4

I wrote this on our board at our work, and it got me to thinking. We look at this as applying only to Jesus’s disciples. And we can well argue for that in its context. After all, in his great Sermon on the Mount, Jesus is laying out the difference between those who build their house on the rock, as opposed to others who build their house on sand.

But it also got me to thinking. And by and by I’m guessing God’s revelation moved me to the realization that God’s heart goes out to all who mourn. I think the pages of Scripture support that. Certainly the words that God reached out in love to us when we were still sinners, Christ dying for us.

This means we ought to have a heart for all who are mourning. Christians should be known as people with the largest, most tender hearts. As we hopefully become more and more people “after God’s own heart.” In and through Jesus.

prejudice, racism, and loving your neighbor as yourself

“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”

The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”

Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

Luke 10:36-37

Jesus’s parable of the Good Samaritan is considered a classic for good reason. And it really puts us on our heels in a number of ways, regardless of who we are. (Read or listen to this interesting piece.) The one who did good was part of a people who were not only looked down upon, but utterly despised by the Jews. Samaritans did not hold to the faith, and they were a mixed race. But Jesus singled out a Samaritan, as opposed to a Jewish priest and levite, as being the one who epitomized what it meant to love one’s neighbor, a staple of the Jewish faith, in contrast to the Jewish religious men who failed to do that.

There’s no way getting around it. We probably all struggle with prejudice. It’s not like we ought to simply accept that, but when we don’t understand another culture, it is easy to simply dismiss them as somehow not measuring up, yes to our culture. And surely they end up looking at us in much the same way. Just that realization should help us curb our tendency toward prejudice. We realize our own weakness and lack of understanding, so that we more and more refuse to prejudge anyone. Rather we might ask questions, or simply assume the best. While at the same time giving no one a free pass on what is plainly wrong.

Racism is another, more serious matter. It has a marked, troubling history in the United States, and actually is still alive today. And for one reason: humans are sinful, and inherently see others who are different as somehow inferior to themselves. Again, refer to the article linked above which I would say substantiates this Christian claim, even if people in it would not use the word “sin”. If we all struggle with sin, then to some extent, we might struggle with racism. Racism simply put is the opinion, even conviction that one’s own race is somehow superior, and that other races are somehow inferior. By race I mean one’s ethnicity, their ethnic roots, which oftentimes is marked by skin color and culture.

Scripture does not either deny the diversity within humanity, or try to tamp it down. Rather, as we see in the last book in the Bible, it acknowledges and one might even say, celebrates it. The gospel in the reconciliation it brings, integrates into the one humanity, all the different peoples. And that would include everything they have to contribute to the whole. This is all considered a gift from God in creation, and especially in new creation in Jesus.

Like “the good Samaritan,” it’s not enough at all to agree intellectually. We must act on that, regardless of what prejudices we still might have. And see ourselves not only as givers, but also as receivers of God’s good gift and blessing from others who we don’t readily identify with. More and more learning to see our differences as complementary, as we find our unity in the love of God that is in and through Jesus.

politics and love for neighbor

On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

“What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”

He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

“You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”

But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

Luke 10:25-29

Without getting into the politics and technicalities (philosophy, etc.) of everything, since it’s really more complicated than what many people on different sides make it out to be, I want to press home what should be our chief consideration as Christians when it comes to politics. I’m assuming that you like most Christians have some interest in it, from at least considering voting, to actual participation in the process.

Love for God and for neighbor should trump every other concern. It’s not like we shouldn’t take care of our own, but that we should use the freedom we have to help others. Of course that includes the unborn, the war torn refugee, the down and out- the homeless, etc., etc.

Jesus tells the parable of the good Samaritan to press home the teaching that we’re to be a neighbor to whoever is in trouble. That we’re to show them love by being present for them to bind up their wounds and take care of their needs so that they can recover.

At the heart of Christianity is a devoted love for God and for our neighbor as ourselves. It’s not just about how well we are. It’s about others flourishing, also. Only Jesus can help any of us be well. We as Christians seek to be present in Jesus for each other, and for others. We should want to be a neighbor to everyone.

For the Christian, the church is where the life of Christ is present and where we’re commissioned to be a witness to the good news in Jesus, and to do good works. What moves us  is not in a political party or candidate of this world. It’s only Jesus. Not to say good as well as evil isn’t done by political parties and candidates. But that our work is in Jesus with the distinctive of love for God and neighbor.

the righteous requirement of the law: love

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death. For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.

Romans 8:1-4

…in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us….

Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law. The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not covet,” and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.

Romans 8:4b; 13:8-10

It is interesting how it seems that the reason for Christ’s atoning work and the Spirit’s work for believers is that they might love their neighbor as themselves. Jesus made it clear that includes everyone, that actually we’re to be a neighbor to all in actions of love for those in need (see the parable of the Good Samaritan). And that this is one command with the command to love God with all one’s heart, soul, mind and strength.

Of course we’re going to love no one perfectly in this life. Only God can do that. But love should be the overriding passion for all that we are and do. And it’s not a love defined by us or on our terms, what we might think love is. It’s always in terms of God’s commandments. A friend pointed out to me recently that the law of sin and death overcame the law (Torah) God gave, but the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus overcomes the law of sin and death (see Romans 7). And that’s so that we can love others, really love them in terms of God’s love.

That should be what moves us beyond anything else through the everyday routines of life, and the intricacies within the challenging, difficult places. And it’s a love steeped in God’s love. We love because he first loved us (1 John). Believing and knowing we’re loved, and living in that love through God’s grace and gift in Christ, will help us extend that same love to others. In practical, needed, down to earth ways. And in avoiding what is contrary. In and through Jesus.

the heart and soul of Jesus followers

Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law. The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not covet,” and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.

Romans 13:8-10

There is nothing more fundamentally basic for human life than love, specifically loving each other, one’s fellow humans. It’s profound in its implications, and given the nature of us all, it can be a tall order. We have to look out for each other, and think about the best interest of the other. In fact in following the way of Christ, our best interest should be pursued so that we can serve the best interests of others.

As Jesus taught, echoing Scripture, we’re called to love our neighbor as ourselves. He put that in the same category as loving God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength. We can’t love God if we don’t love our neighbor. And theo-logically, our love for our neighbor is rooted in, and comes out of our commitment to love God. It’s not just rote, but it can begin there. But out of love for God, we commit ourselves to loving our neighbor as ourselves. Something which should flow naturally out of that, but something also that we need to be committed to. Because given the nature of us humans, everyone of us, it would be easy to opt out. But then we would be abandoning love for God. Something we in Jesus cannot do.

Commands are given to us as necessary boundaries we’re not to cross if we’re to love our neighbor, which includes doing no harm to them. The ultimate goal of the law, or God’s word is love: love for God, for each other in Jesus, and for everyone else, including our enemies. This is fundamentally basic to us as Christians, but is not only the foundation in Jesus for how we live, but ought to be our heart and soul. It’s the cake and frosting and everything else. In God’s love in and through Jesus.

people are the problem (including me)

“Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”

He also told them this parable: “Can the blind lead the blind? Will they not both fall into a pit? The student is not above the teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like their teacher.

“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when you yourself fail to see the plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.

Luke 6:37-42

Jesus reserved his harshest words, or basically got after those who pointed the finger at others. Especially the Jewish religious leaders, who were critical of those who did not line up with their traditions largely put in place to keep people from breaking God’s Law, but missing the heart of the law: love for neighbor demonstrating one’s actual love for God.

If we’re generous to others, we’ll experience generosity, but if we’re harsh, then harshness. Those who lead others do so in how they live, whether or not they really put God’s word into practice or not, whether they come to Jesus, hear his words, and put them into practice, which includes how they view others (Luke 6:46-49).

To be upset over shortcoming in others in itself should raise our suspicions: What about us? When people do light into us, what’s our reaction? Is it helpful? Is there some blindness to it, so that we can’t really see what actually was meant by the other person and why? Often enough there is fault on the other side, and maybe they are largely or entirely to blame on a given matter. But we need to step back a bit, and consider how we can grow as in grow up more toward maturity in Christ.

There may be a time to confront, but in the end, and really throughout, we need to love. To make sure our lives line up with that love toward others. Taking the plank out of our own eye, so that by our example, they might see the speck of sawdust in their own eye. In and through Jesus.

a closer look at favoritism (the rich and the poor)

have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?

James 2:4

Yesterday’s post points to James’s concern over the favoritism Christians were giving to the rich over the poor. James does end up making a distinction himself, but it’s circumstantial, yet in part based on the biblical narrative. God seems to hold a special place in his heart for the poor, and we can add to that, the down and out. And what evidently was happening in a situation James was addressing is that the rich who were actually oppressing the poor were being favored, while the oppressed poor were pushed aside (see the context in link above, and James 5).

There ought to be no discrimination, distinctions drawn only because of biblical priorities such as justice and mercy. There is nothing inherently ungodly about being wealthy, yet such wealth makes one responsible to do good and be generous, particularly to those less fortunate. And not just in the way of handouts, but in a nondiscriminatory fashion, to those who are poor as equals so as to help them flourish according to their giftedness. And to help those who actually are not able to help themselves.

In the end everyone should be seen not only as on equal ground as sinners in need of grace before the cross, but also as sharing God’s gift each has to all the others, receiving and giving. So that there’s no room for evil thoughts about each other, but only a heart of loving one’s neighbor as oneself, worked out in concrete actions. In and through Jesus.

the Good Samaritan, and the refugee crisis

On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

“What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”

He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’[a]; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[b]

“You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”

But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii[c] and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’

“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”

The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”

Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

Luke 10:25-37

The Syrian crisis has raised a lot of questions and thoughts on how we should look at refugees coming from places which likely harbor terrorists. Some nations have done well in regard to taking them in, while others have not done as well, or nothing at all.

And then there is the Christian response to the refugee crisis. I’ve heard good things, but the problem might be in the silence. Here is a good article from a conservative Christian organization summing up what the Christian response should be.

I think too often we can let fear get in the way of what our response should be: to show mercy and love. Jesus’s parable of the Good Samaritan teaches us just how we ought to respond if we’re to live in obedience to the first and great commandment, and the second like it. The Samaritan was a foreigner who took care of an injured Jew, actually, in all probability saving his life. Jesus notes in his parable, interestingly enough, that while two Jewish religious leaders pass the poor man by, this Samaritan stops and helps him.

While we have to have wisdom nowadays, since there are scammers aplenty, we can help through agencies we trust, like World Vision or Compassion International. And we need to be proactive as churches in doing what we can, instead of relying on the government, or others to do it. Such often need help to know where to plug into government agencies, and other organizations which can help. And the church needs to have a open hand to do what it can, as well.

And all of us, really. The Samaritan was one man. We need to be prayerful and alert to what might be helpful in any given situation throughout the day. Note this series of good discussions on this very text and give it a listen. We should reach out in love to the stranger or foreigner among us. And allow for the cultural difference, again, helping where it’s needed.

According to Jesus, the question is who is a neighbor to someone in need. We need to answer that one, not with our lips, but with our lives, doing what we can in love, in and through Jesus.