ratcheted up a notch

See, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple. The messenger of the covenant in whom you delight—indeed, he is coming, says the LORD of hosts. But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears?

For he is like a refiner’s fire and like washer’s soap; he will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the descendants of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, until they present offerings to the LORD in righteousness. Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the LORD, as in the days of old and as in former years.

Then I will draw near to you for judgment; I will be swift to bear witness against the sorcerers, against the adulterers, against those who swear falsely, against those who oppress the hired workers in their wages, the widow and the orphan, against those who thrust aside the alien and do not fear me, says the LORD of hosts.

For I the LORD do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, have not perished. Ever since the days of your ancestors you have turned aside from my statutes and have not kept them. Return to me, and I will return to you, says the LORD of hosts. But you say, “How shall we return?”

Malachi 3:1-7; NRSVue

I’m not sure if anyone actually likes difficulty in and of itself. For other reasons, people might like it. To meet the challenge, to achieve some goal through it, maybe winning in competition, along with other reasons why people embrace what is hard. Hardship might be another matter, after all there’s surely a line drawn for each person, which they wouldn’t care to cross.

God was out to change the descendants of Levi, to purify them so that sin was being dealt with in their lives, and so that sin could be dealt with through their assigned task in the lives of others.

What about when we run into difficulty and what for us are impossible things to accept? Life won’t let us down that way. For some, especially who have plenty of material wealth, they may be able to glide through and pretty much avoid what are the common struggles for others. But even they can’t avoid everything, like possible sickness and eventual certain death. And difficulties will come their way as well, even if not so much circumstances, but disillusionment over emptiness in spite of being so well set.

God is active in people’s lives, and especially in those who name God’s name as those belonging to God and supposed to be the Lord’s followers. And part of that activity is not at all comfortable. “Refiner’s fire” and “washer’s soap” imagery above refer to purification and cleansing. We all need it. In the heat of life, what arises can be anything but pleasant, and not good. This can come through a multitude of small nagging things as well as a major concern which hangs over our heads.

But God is at work in that. It’s up to us to respond in being aware what sins need to be confessed, and the change that needs to come in our lives. And actually God is at work to ratchet us up a notch so to speak. So that we are becoming what before certainly was not the case. God is at work for great good, certainly including us. But we need to endeavor to accept that fully. So that we might be a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God (Romans 12:1-2).

In and through Jesus.

what does it mean to really be a believer in Christ?

My brothers and sisters, do you with your acts of favoritism really believe in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ?

James 2:1

It was said somewhere recently that many today simply call themselves Christians with little to next to no understanding of what that really means. And one well respected writer, Dallas Willard refers to “bar-code Christianity” by which he means that people say a prayer or whatever to make sure they’ll get into heaven, but their lives are essentially unchanged, or at least there’s no intent to be followers of Christ.

James implies in his words here that to “really believe in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ” means much more, and certainly includes not showing “favoritism.” To believe in Christ then is not just passive as in receiving something, but it’s also active, doing what we believe such faith calls us to do. Just as James says in this very same chapter of our Bibles, it is a faith that proves it’s alive by its works.

Faith in Christ then is looking to Christ, beginning to take in what Christ is, and being changed accordingly. Lives changed, actions impacted. So that we want to live according to God’s will in revealed in Jesus, yes, “in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ.”

In and through Jesus.

be careful to do it

But be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves.

James 1:22

We need to remind ourselves, but if we fail to, life will. James is a good book to settle into for life, of course always considering the rest of Scripture as well. James and life, life and James together will remind us of the straight and narrow to which Jesus calls us.

It seems to me that a major bent we have is to simply love receiving insight so that our basic stance is to understand. But we often fall short of fulfilling why that understanding is given in the first place. To help us grow and put into practice what we’re told to do. We need to be not just hearers, but doers of the word.

We need a keen sensitivity all the way around. Eager to hear God’s voice and pick up what God is saying to us. And understanding its meaning, how that truth is meant for our lives, for change, that we might confess our sins, repent of our ways, and do not only better, but do God’s will in the matter. However halting and imperfect that may be, so that the difference may become more and more a part of who we are, and of what we do. In and through Jesus.

giftedness versus fruit

If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.

1 Corinthians 13

I am at the age and place in my life where I’m nearly, not quite, but almost allergic to something coming across so wonderfully, so smoothly from a person. Yes, those can be and probably are gifts of God to us humans. But none of it matters one iota if the fruit of righteousness in Christ by the Spirit expressed in love is not present and growing. And all too often, as we’ve seen in recent times, these two don’t necessarily go together.

This was true in Paul’s time as well. The Corinthian believers were oohing and aahing over gifted teachers, and not a few saw whatever weakness was evident in Paul (2 Corinthians 12) as a disqualifier. This is not a sign of maturity, but of immaturity, indicating the need to see what is supposed to be the heart of it all. That is found in the love which comes from the God who is love, worked out into every part of our lives.

I care less and less how I might come across when teaching, leading a discussion, or giving a message. I would much rather come across as weak, and have God’s Spirit working on me and on all of us there, rather than come across as a gifted whatever. None of the latter in itself matters. It’s only a means to the end of conforming us to the image of Christ who is the express image of the God who is love. In and through Jesus.

sins of the tongue

How great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire! And the tongue is a fire. The tongue is placed among our members as a world of iniquity; it stains the whole body, sets on fire the cycle of nature, and is itself set on fire by hell. For every species of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by the human species, but no one can tame the tongue—a restless evil, full of deadly poison.

James 3:5b-8

It seems to me we kind of more or less excuse sins of the tongue, the tongue lashings we regularly give to each other and others. But the Bible is full of warnings against this. And just the relatively short book of James addresses this repeatedly.

What we say matters as well as what we refuse to say. We could even say that what we don’t say is more important that what we actually do say. A lot of our thoughts we should keep to ourselves for good reason. Are they wise, well informed? Are they gracious, merciful? If not, then we don’t need merely some kind of face lift as in changing our habits, but we need to get to what underlies that. We need a heart change. And the book of James addresses that as well.

If we can get a handle on this, and quit minimizing and excusing or even putting up with our sins of the tongue, that can end up helping us immensely. God wants to speak to us and get through to us in this. Not just a one time, or one day change, but an entirely new life. Bringing our disparaging thoughts to God. Refusing to lash out at others, even in our thoughts, but seeking God’s help for us and for them.

In and through Jesus.

one of the devil’s many but most effective lies

Soak me in your laundry and I’ll come out clean,
scrub me and I’ll have a snow-white life.
Tune me in to foot-tapping songs,
set these once-broken bones to dancing.
Don’t look too close for blemishes,
give me a clean bill of health.
God, make a fresh start in me,
shape a Genesis week from the chaos of my life.
Don’t throw me out with the trash,
or fail to breathe holiness in me.
Bring me back from gray exile,
put a fresh wind in my sails!
Give me a job teaching rebels your ways
so the lost can find their way home.
Commute my death sentence, God, my salvation God,
and I’ll sing anthems to your life-giving ways.
Unbutton my lips, dear God;
I’ll let loose with your praise.

Psalm 51:7-15; MSG

I don’t know why this is not included online, but this is Eugene Peterson’s rendering in The Message Bible of the ascription given to the psalm, part of the inspired text or not, but certainly steeped in tradition: “A DAVID PSALM, AFTER HE WAS CONFRONTED BY NATHAN ABOUT THE AFFAIR WITH BATHSHEBA.” This may well have been written by David during that time (2  Samuel 11-12). Whatever the case, the psalm itself lends its voice to whoever and whatever. It is general enough, that it includes all who have sinned grievously in big ways, as well as perhaps small yet willful acts which also need repentance and God’s cleansing, saving work.

One of the devil’s big lies, which we need to learn to recognize and reject is the lie that certain sins put people beyond the pale of usefulness to God. I know when a pastor falls there is disagreement as to whether after repentance and time for restoration he or she can be reinstated to their pastoral position. I tend to think so myself, but that’s not specifically what we’re dealing with here. There’s no doubt that such sins can haunt the one who is guilty as is evident in Psalm 51 itself, and that there will be fallout or consequences from it, as we see in the case of David (see 2 Samuel 13-15, also 12:10-14).

But we need to get rid of the notion and again outright lie for sure that such a person can no longer be useful in God’s service in love to others. I know this is old covenant, but David himself was not stripped of his position as king, nor of honor as we see Jesus himself called “the son of David” as not just a fact, but as likely an honorific title. How much more in the new covenant can such a one be restored?! I think of this passage about an erring sinner in the church:

Now, regarding the one who started all this—the person in question who caused all this pain—I want you to know that I am not the one injured in this as much as, with a few exceptions, all of you. So I don’t want to come down too hard. What the majority of you agreed to as punishment is punishment enough. Now is the time to forgive this man and help him back on his feet. If all you do is pour on the guilt, you could very well drown him in it. My counsel now is to pour on the love.

The focus of my letter wasn’t on punishing the offender but on getting you to take responsibility for the health of the church. So if you forgive him, I forgive him. Don’t think I’m carrying around a list of personal grudges. The fact is that I’m joining in with your forgiveness, as Christ is with us, guiding us. After all, we don’t want to unwittingly give Satan an opening for yet more mischief—we’re not oblivious to his sly ways!

2 Corinthians 2:5-11; MSG

We need to get rid of the notion, yes the lie, once for all that when a person sins bigtime there’s nothing left for them, except forgiveness of their sin when they confess it. Surely they should live in deep humility the rest of their lives. But they also need “to inhabit [others’] forgiveness and God’s forgiveness,” to accept that as a matter of fact and reality.

This truth must never be abused to mean that I can do what I please, even though it’s sinful, knowing that in the end full restoration will happen. That is both dangerous to the person doing it, who may in fact not see fit to repent, not to mention the damage that occurs. We can’t have both our way and God’s way. At the same time, we also must not set aside God’s amazing grace for all sinners, including those who have abused this truth, who return to him in genuine repentance, not just sorry about the consequences of their sin, but that they sinned against God and against others.

In and through Jesus.

if John “the elder,” Christ’s apostle were alive today

As Jesus walked beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” At once they left their nets and followed him.

When he had gone a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John in a boat, preparing their nets. Without delay he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men and followed him.

Mark 1:16-20

James son of Zebedee and his brother John (to them he gave the name Boanerges, which means “sons of thunder”)

Mark 3:17

James, son of Zebedee,

John, brother of James (Jesus nicknamed the Zebedee brothers Boanerges, meaning “Sons of Thunder”)

Mark 3:17; MSG

As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem. And he sent messengers on ahead, who went into a Samaritan village to get things ready for him; but the people there did not welcome him, because he was heading for Jerusalem. When the disciples James and John saw this, they asked, “Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them?” But Jesus turned and rebuked them. Then he and his disciples went to another village.

Luke 9:51-56

I’m wondering if the old, wise, beloved apostle of our Lord were alive today, just what he would say to us here in the United States, specifically what he would say to the believers in Jesus. John changed over time, and as an old man is known especially for a passage like this one:

My beloved friends, let us continue to love each other since love comes from God. Everyone who loves is born of God and experiences a relationship with God. The person who refuses to love doesn’t know the first thing about God, because God is love—so you can’t know him if you don’t love. This is how God showed his love for us: God sent his only Son into the world so we might live through him. This is the kind of love we are talking about—not that we once upon a time loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to clear away our sins and the damage they’ve done to our relationship with God.

1 John 4:7-10; MSG

So over the next several weeks, I plan to post from at least the first letter of John (maybe the second and third letters as well), and see from them just what in my imagination John might say to us today. I really think he would say much the same as he said originally, of course tailored to our time and circumstances. Theologians have parsed out the meaning, and I don’t intend to get into all of that. But just look briefly at what the elder John, the apostle of love might say to us if he were alive today. In and through Jesus.

not outcomes, but becoming

These court cases are an ugly blot on your community. Wouldn’t it be far better to just take it, to let yourselves be wronged and forget it? All you’re doing is providing fuel for more wrong, more injustice, bringing more hurt to the people of your own spiritual family.

1 Corinthians 6:7-8; MSG

We as people are big into outcomes. Winning can be everything, and cheating is okay to do so, as long as you get away with it. This is an endemic problem. We want to look good, or we think that if we look good, or come across right, then mission accomplished.

Not so on God’s agenda. What we are inside and out is what matters to God. How that’s understood, or sometimes misunderstood is secondary. It’s not whether everything turns out alright, just so, the way we want it to, but how we act in the process, what characterizes us, indeed our character.

It’s not the outcome that we should be focused on, but on what we’re becoming. To begin to see that difference within ourselves. With others in Jesus, becoming more like him.

can the Lord help us through each situation?

There are so many passages of Scripture which could help us. The problem with quoting any one of them here is that we can too easily almost make the passage itself nearly like a fetish by which I mean having power in itself apart from its true meaning. But we need to keep going back to Scripture again and again, because through that we find God’s revelation to us in Christ, and the details surrounding that.

Yes, yes, the Lord indeed wants to help us through each situation. This actually takes hard work on our part, akin to the thought in Scripture that we’re to make every effort to enter into God’s rest. We are so used to doing it our way, so “programmed” or set in that way, it’s so much a part of who we are, that sadly we’re at a loss to give that up. But we need to set ourselves in the straight and narrow of being determined, even if it makes us sick to our stomach, to commit everything to the Lord, and then depend on him. Prayer, talking to the Lord. A little bit of this goes a long way. And I mean a sincere, honest effort on our part. And not wavering, as James puts it, being two-faced, actually “double-minded.”

This has to be our ongoing commitment, and I speak for myself, so that this attitude and corresponding action becomes more and more a part of who we are, what characterizes us. Something I hope by God’s grace to continue to work on. In and through Jesus.

are we being changed into people through whom God might change others?

My son, give me your heart
and let your eyes delight in my ways

Proverbs 23:26

It’s amazing, the challenge of Scripture, and how that can hit you in new unexpected ways. Through my current trek in the Proverbs this hit me, and I stood in wonder. I can see God, the Lord telling us this. But us saying this to someone else? Of course we know full well that Paul tells us to follow him as he follows Christ. We’re to find those kind of people whose lives show the difference Christ makes, and learn to think, act and live as they do.

Maturity in Christ involves becoming people who others can see not as a pain, but something wondrous, beautiful, true, a person that at least they can truthfully say is worthy of respect, and someone that in some way they can look up to. That should never be our goal, to have others admire us, never. But if we can reflect something of the beauty of Christ in our lives more and more, than that could be a way of others finding their way to that same beauty.

We struggle ourselves to find our way in Jesus. But he is there for us. And especially through those who are much further along in that way than ourselves. So that hopefully in turn by and by others through our own struggle and the ongoing help God gives might find their way to this as well. In and through Jesus.