yes, this is directed to “Christians,” followers of Christ (“Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.”)

Those conflicts and disputes among you, where do they come from? Do they not come from your cravings that are at war within you? You want something and do not have it, so you commit murder. And you covet something and cannot obtain it, so you engage in disputes and conflicts. You do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive because you ask wrongly, in order to spend what you get on your pleasures. Adulterers! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. Or do you suppose that the scripture speaks to no purpose? Does the spirit that God caused to dwell in us desire envy? But God gives all the more grace; therefore it says,

“God opposes the proud
but gives grace to the humble.”

Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Lament and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned into mourning and your joy into dejection. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.

James 4:1-10

When you read this relatively short book or letter of James, at least I get the sense that this is from one, a James who is a pastor at heart, but at the same time minces no words. And you also get it plainly that he’s writing to believers in Christ. 

What James is getting at is about real life. And what people do and fail to do, including true believers of Christ. We might believe, but do we always follow Christ in our attitudes and actions, our behavior and words? We all know the answer to that. We know it firsthand, and by what we witness. And James saw through what was happening in his time, with a pastoral concern coming from both the wisdom and prophetic tradition of Israel, along with the fulfillment present in Christ. 

James makes no two ways about it. When we’re caught up in sin, specifically here sins of division due to sinful attitudes on our part, he gets right after them (and by extension, us), calling them sinners, and telling us and them among other important things that we’re to cleanse our hands and purify our hearts. It’s up to us, period. We’re to get it together, humbling ourselves in submission to God, resisting the devil and drawing near to God. And then in no uncertain terms, the ultimatum to take care of what’s wrong in ourselves.

Yes, we can only do this because of God’s unmerited grace to us in Christ. But we must do it. Or else what James says here means nothing. Or at least means nothing to us. It’s a poor theology that can’t figure out how to include and somehow apply all for us, especially that which is written in Christian Scripture (“the New Testament”). Position in Christ is one thing, practice is something entirely different. Because of our position or place “in Christ” we have the responsibility to deal with what’s wrong in our own lives. And within community, as James is getting at, to live well together in the harmony of Christ in the unity of the Spirit. In and through Jesus.

making disciples

Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. When they saw him, they worshiped him, but they doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Matthew 28:16-20

It is true that many hold onto a faith which does involve working at change of life, but seems mostly about the hope of eternal life, sins forgiven, and an emphasis on how undeserving we are. Of course, we’re unworthy in and of ourselves, but there are passages that indicate that somehow God’s grace is at work to make us worthy, to help us live lives worthy of the calling we’ve received.

Why it is that so many are vibrant in an evangelical faith, maybe even a gospel faith, but back to more of the common evangelical faith of today. Evangelical is from the Greek word from the New Testament meaning gospel. But in present evangelical understanding there’s a marked emphasis on assurance of eternal life. Yesterday in a sermon at First Mennonite Church in Bluffton, Ohio, Lynn Miller said this:

Nothing is more disturbing to the secular culture around us than the gospel of Jesus Christ. I’m convinced that the evidence of your salvation in Christ is not your belief that you will go to heaven when you die, but the evidence that you are living according to his teachings while you are still alive. And living according to the teachings of Jesus is disturbing. Jesus says he loves the stranger, the widow and the orphan. In this self-centered culture that surrounds us, that is disturbing.

The problem is that the church is not really fully committed if committed at all to the work of making disciples. A disciple is a follower of Christ, committed to following him come what may. Today that is done through faith and baptism through which there is a commitment together as church to hold each other accountable as all together seek to follow Christ in all of life.

Sadly, even in many of the best of churches, there’s mostly an emphasis on the blessed assurance that is ours in Christ which is good, along with practical application of Scripture to help us in our lives. And some are much better in holding people to what Scripture is saying, the challenge there. But it needs to be made clear, no bones about it that if we’re not in to follow Christ, and such following has to be total, complete, than we’re not in the faith taught by Christ and found in the New Testament. Period.

This will be messy and not easy, and we can well understand that if we look at our own lives. But there has to be both the individual committed to Christ within the church, and the church committed to the individual. All of us committed to each other since we are after all a part of each other as one body in Christ. We seek to follow Christ in everything and to do so together. I need other’s help and in God’s economy and will, they need mine as well. In love and prayers, in listening and helping. Through everything. Finding God’s good will for us which includes mission to the world since by our lives we’re light in the Lord. In the way of Jesus, in and through him.

what honors God?

So… whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God.

1 Corinthians 10:31

This post is mainly for one reason, to get us to think about this question. The idea of bringing glory to God and honoring God, though not precisely the same in meaning are synonymous. Both are about revering and praising as well as bringing praise to God.

The context in the passage above (click above link) is quite different than a certain passage in the Pentateuch where it says certain ones brought glory to God by what they did. What honored God at one time may not do so anymore. There is what Christians call the old covenant along with the new covenant. You find difference and nuance elsewhere in human understanding of what humans ought to do, including in Jewish circles.

The point I want to remain on is just this: What honors God? Not what pleases me or makes everyone happy or makes me feel good or is entertaining or any number of other things that we often value. I’m not really thinking of how church conducts itself, though that should be thought about with this question as well. But I’m thinking primarily of how we should think and conduct ourselves. In the context of the passage above, it’s certainly about how believers live together when some are further along or more enlightened in their understanding of God’s will or when there are different understandings.

What honors God should be one of our primary questions. We factor in what loving God and loving others, even including our enemies looks like. We also factor in what is good and right. We hold ourselves accountable to that, and in certain contexts should hold others accountable as well, though our main focus must be on ourselves.

This is part of our walk in Christ Jesus. God will help us sort through what is in Scripture and elsewhere as we consider this in all of life. In and through Jesus.

against living in a (the holy) bubble

I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral persons, not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since you would then need to go out of the world. But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother or sister who is sexually immoral or greedy or an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler. Do not even eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging those outside? Are you not judges of those who are inside? God will judge those outside. “Drive out the wicked person from among you.”

1 Corinthians 5:9-13

Do not be mismatched with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and lawlessness have in common? Or what partnership is there between light and darkness? What agreement does Christ have with Beliar? Or what does a believer share with an unbeliever? What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God, as God said,

“I will live in them and walk among them,
and I will be their God,
and they shall be my people.
Therefore come out from them,
and be separate from them, says the Lord,
and touch nothing unclean;
then I will welcome you,
and I will be your father,
and you shall be my sons and daughters,
says the Lord Almighty.”

Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of flesh and of spirit, making holiness perfect in the fear of God.

2 Corinthians 6:14-7:1

Although I rarely watch films, I remember favorites of the relatively few that I’ve watched, and one of them is The Truman Show. In that a man grows up within a bubble, but at a certain point the imaginary world built around him seems unreal to him and he wants to escape. Something to that effect.

I along with many others have been impacted by a Christian tradition and culture which is isolationist at its core. Except to go out and try to get people saved so that they can enter into the same isolation. This happened in just about any and every way conceivable. Their own education, books, music, entertainment, you name it. Everything was essentially covered.

And when you consider the history of especially the past one hundred fifty years or so along with the above Scripture passages, this is understandable, even if all of it was relatively misguided, which I believe was indeed the case. When you consider Jesus’s lifestyle as given to us in the gospel accounts, one who ate and drank and therefore seemed to be at home with the tax-collectors and sinners to the chagrin of the religious leaders, and along with other things against him, Jesus ended up condemned because of that, then one can begin to wonder.

Yes, Paul quotes the prophets telling us essentially not to touch the unclean thing. Interestingly Jesus’s touch made the unclean thing clean, and we’re told to follow Jesus. So what Paul was getting at I take as essentially different. As followers of Jesus we’re to be distinctive from the world in the way we live, what our passions and priorities are. We are in covenant together as the church to hold each other up in prayer and be accountable, for others to help us in our weakness to continue on in spite of ourselves and our inevitable faults along the way, failures included.

It is nothing less than a catastrophe, the insistence to live isolationist within a bubble when we’re the salt of the earth and the light of the world (Matthew 5:13-16). Yes, we do become unclean when we fail to follow the way of Jesus which is the way of the cross, the way of love for all. We’re held accountable to follow that way, and we try in love to help others to find their way into that way, the way of Jesus, the way who is Jesus. In and through him.

prayer for a clean heart

Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and put a new and right spirit within me.

Psalm 51:10; NRSVue

There are those who say that this prayer is not for today since God has given us a new heart and spirit in the new covenant. I can more than understand that thought, and I don’t really care to argue about it. It may well be true on a certain level. We indeed have a new heart and are partakers of the divine nature as believers in Christ. But that doesn’t mean that our hearts might not be carried away with something contrary to the goodness and righteousness that’s in Christ.

In John’s first epistle (as it’s called, or letter) we’re told that if we confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9). If that’s addressed to believers, and contrary to a few I think it plainly is, then it’s not a stretch to pray the prayer above from Psalm 51, and to benefit directly from that entire penitent psalm.

What we’re talking about here is real life. Yes, we’re forgiven in Christ through his once for all sacrifice for sins. But in God’s love and grace, God holds all of God’s children accountable. God expects more from us.

We may not be able to make sense of everything in Scripture, and that for a good number of reasons. It’s better to ponder than simply dismiss something as irrelevant to us. All of Scripture is written for us if not to us. It will benefit us if we give it the time and space.

In this case I pray that God will indeed give me a clean heart and a new and right spirit. God is always at work to bring us into a new experience of God’s love and what that means for every part of our lives and out from our lives to others. In and through Jesus.

not backing down

If you faint in the day of adversity,
your strength being small;

Does not he who keeps watch over your soul know it?
And will he not repay all according to their deeds?

Proverbs 24:10, 12b; NRSVue

We can’t back down when trouble hits us. Especially if it involves others’ well being. In the words of the proverb above, we must not faint on the day of adversity. We show our strength to be small when we do.

God holds us accountable to hang in there, remain steady, and do all that is necessary to meet the difficulty. God wants us to do good by others. Always in the way of wisdom. For the true good of others, which means holding them responsible as well, but also helping those who cannot help themselves.

We do so, pulling out all the stops as best we know. Figuring out what is best for them, and even how it works best for us in trying to help them. Which might well involve finding a help for them which goes beyond what we can do.

Adversity will strike. What are we prone to do when it does? God wants us to not back down, to be present. Not to take matters in our own hands, but to prayerfully be present, in love being willing to do our part.

In and through Jesus.

“Is it I, Lord?”

When it was evening, he took his place with the twelve; and while they were eating, he said, “Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me.” And they became greatly distressed and began to say to him one after another, “Surely not I, Lord?”

Matthew 26:20-22

I’ve been listening, and am nearly few through the Christianity Today podcast, The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill. It’s a head scratcher, not always easy to listen to, keep listening to, or get through. But well done, and one begins to see the value of doing so, I think. For me, it’s a reminder of how having a stage can be dangerous and go to the head, so that the leader grasps for and holds on to power. I also think of the need for accountability for all, including those at the top, and the importance of proper submission, being willing to submit.

The podcast tells of a quite gifted (though I never was interested in any of his messages or books, and didn’t connect with any of that both because of the theology, as well as the tone in which it was presented) pastor, and truthfully I have a hard time using that word for this man, but one who got the movement of Mars Hill in Seattle started, really Mars Hill being his in his mind it seems, instead of the Lord’s. It is a head shaker, as you go through the account well documented of one who seems a narcissist through and through. At the same time it is remarkable how God did seem to use what was going on there to bless many. But even more quickly than its exponential rise, it came to a crashing end.

While I could hardly believe my ears both from the leader and other leaders talking about their time there, I found myself beginning to squirm a bit. I was wondering to myself, how much of that is in me. What I was hearing was perhaps helpful in the sense of making it clear what I and others don’t want to be. But it was also like a picture, which might become a mirror. Did I recognize myself, even a little bit of me in any of it? Maybe not much at all the way the leader was, but wanting to know.

So I found myself wondering, a good place to pray and ask the Lord, “Is it I?” And maybe that’s where the Lord wants me to be for a time, so that he can more and more sift out what is not like him, opposite really, opposed to him. Something helpful for myself, which I continue to reflect on from listening to the podcast. In and through Jesus.

a true friend tells the truth to help

Well meant are the wounds a friend inflicts,
but profuse are the kisses of an enemy.

Proverbs 27:6

Wounds from a friend can be trusted,
but an enemy multiplies kisses.

Proverbs 27:6; NIV

On the surface, there’s probably nothing worse than wounds from a friend. But if we can get past that, there’s probably actually nothing better.

Sometimes the only way truth and needed correction can get through to us is through a wounding. How that’s inflicted requires wisdom that is beyond us, or we could say also comes through long experience with God’s help. And it depends on each situation. And it’s not like we get it completely right in doing so. Maybe there’s wrong along with right in what is said, how it’s said. We need to be doing so always with the attempt to love. But love is not about making people feel good or in affirming their every thought and action. Not at all. If we do that, we’re not a good friend, in the true sense not a friend at all. But oftentimes it ends up being that we’re just not the friend they need. We may even be well meaning, but amiss. Love includes truth, what is right and just as well as good. So we need friends who hold us to that standard, and in turn we need to hold each other to the same.

But if we’re not regularly praying for someone, or not in prayer for them, then we should never attempt to correct them. And if we try to correct another, it should be done gently. Though maybe there’s a time for rebuke. We have to be careful not to see ourselves as more than we are, just another human in need of God’s grace, or to think we’re God’s spokes person. If we’re ever on the giving end of this, we should do so with much concern, in prayer, ready for God’s correction of us. And seeking to love.

If we’re on the receiving end of it, of course that’s harder. But if we’re maturing in Christ, than we’ll seek to hear what good is there, what actually might be helpful for us. Ever mindful of our need to grow, of the reality that we have our blind spots as well. And that God intends for us to progress in the faith significantly through the give and take of each other.

All of this not easy, but the help we need. In and through Jesus.

forgiving others

“If your brother or sister sins against you, rebuke them; and if they repent, forgive them. Even if they sin against you seven times in a day and seven times come back to you saying ‘I repent,’ you must forgive them.”

Luke 17:3b-4

Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?”

Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.

Matthew 18:21-22

In the sometimes rough and tumble existence of life, there’s forgiveness needed, yes, on all sides. But especially so when sin is especially evident, say in one’s attitude or action toward another, sometimes in angry words spoken.

Jesus told his disciples to hold each other accountable for their sin, and forgive them when they repent (see Luke passage above).  And he made it clear that forgiveness is ongoing, that there’s no limit to how often we forgive the same person (see Matthew passage above).

Jesus told a parable in the Matthew passage which makes the point that we forgive because we’ve been forgiven. And forgiven for a worse offense than what was done to us. We might say that sin against God is worse than sin against us, though it’s true that all sin is essentially against God. God has forgiven us because of Jesus’s death for our sins. So we in turn must forgive others. And that if we don’t forgive, we’re handed over to the torturers, so that in essence, we’re only hurting ourselves.

People do need to know they’re forgiven, and frankly, we all need it along the way. So let’s freely extend it to others, yes holding them accountable, but when all is said and done, wiping the slate clean, as if nothing has happened at all. And as necessary, doing it again and again. In and through Jesus.

I’m not referring to abusive relationships. We should forgive, but keep our distance. And also try to hold them accountable, so that they will get the help they need.

 

heeding God’s call

Amos answered Amaziah, “I was neither a prophet nor the son of a prophet, but I was a shepherd, and I also took care of sycamore-fig trees. But the Lord took me from tending the flock and said to me, ‘Go, prophesy to my people Israel.’ Now then, hear the word of the Lord.

Amos 7:14-16a

There is a sense in which any of us who are in Jesus have some sort of calling from God. And the gift to go along with that. It really matters not what friends or even academics might think of that, although we should be humble and teachable, and learn what we can from their critiques. But in the end, we are answerable to God alone. We must pay attention, and be obedient to God’s call.

This doesn’t mean for a second that we’re infallible, or always get it right. Or that we think we’re something special, or a cut above anyone else. No. We’re all different, and everyone’s gift from God is a God thing and therefore a good thing. You shouldn’t compare as in putting against apples, oranges, pears, trees, etc. to each other. They’re all different, but all good in their place.

That’s what I attempt to do. I want to be accountable to the church, to others, and I’ve tried to be. And again, I know there have been flaws in what I’ve done, and that in some ways I’ve refined myself over the years. And yes, I have a hard time with some of what I do, as well. I don’t care at all about my own opinions, for example. But they are one person’s considered thought, weighing, as well as influenced by the thoughts of others, one who has lived a pretty good number of decades.

But in the end, what matters is God’s calling. And our answer to that. Let’s be faithful to the one we will answer to in the end. Together. In and through Jesus.