paying attention to God’s commands

Blessed are those whose ways are blameless,
who walk according to the law of the LORD.
Blessed are those who keep his statutes
and seek him with all their heart—
they do no wrong
but follow his ways.
You have laid down precepts
that are to be fully obeyed.
Oh, that my ways were steadfast
in obeying your decrees!
Then I would not be put to shame
when I consider all your commands.
I will praise you with an upright heart
as I learn your righteous laws.
I will obey your decrees;
do not utterly forsake me.

Psalm 119:1-8

It seems hard and almost old fashioned, at least open to question nowadays, the necessity or even importance of keeping God’s commands. For one thing we live in a relatively Bible illiterate day, when it seems like year after year, people who attend Bible teaching churches know the Bible’s content less and less. At least that has been the case. And we live during a day when there’s a major cultural shift arguably accompanied with a hermeneutical shift, how Christians interpret the Bible. With the obvious changes from the Old (or First) Testament to the New (or Second, we could say Final) Testament such as found in Leviticus, for example the prohibition of sowing two different fabrics together to make clothes no longer being in effect comes the protests that sexual mores have now been changed as well. The idea that sexual relations are confined to a woman and man who are married is considered odd and a thing of the past, almost taboo at least among many in their practice.

Among Christians who fall prey to none of that, there can be such an emphasis on grace, that keeping God’s commands is nearly beside the point. Impossible since that is considered falling under the law, which is only meant to indicate that we’re sinners, incapable of keeping the law. With others it might be a decided shift in emphasis due to priorities which determine more what we’re to do and not do than Scripture itself. It’s almost like Scripture is present to help achieve what is considered most important, often referring to priorities in one’s personal life, or from the political sphere.

May I just suggest that I think all of us Christians and churches ought to stop, back up, and go to square one. We need to return to the plain words of Scripture, of course read faithfully and in light of God’s revelation given to us in Scripture of Christ. We might be surprised at just how traditional it might come across. Not the air of today’s “brave new world” but the fulfillment of the old creation in the new creation in Jesus as spelled out in the Final “New” Testament itself. Something to which we should aspire, even as with the psalmist we lament in not arriving to perfection in this life. In and through Jesus.

beyond make shift ethics

For the director of music. Of David.

In the Lord I take refuge.
How then can you say to me:
“Flee like a bird to your mountain.
For look, the wicked bend their bows;
they set their arrows against the strings
to shoot from the shadows
at the upright in heart.
When the foundations are being destroyed,
what can the righteous do?”

The Lord is in his holy temple;
the Lord is on his heavenly throne.
He observes everyone on earth;
his eyes examine them.
The Lord examines the righteous,
but the wicked, those who love violence,
he hates with a passion.
On the wicked he will rain
fiery coals and burning sulfur;
a scorching wind will be their lot.

For the Lord is righteous,
he loves justice;
the upright will see his face.

Psalm 11

There’s an interesting article on Jesus Creed on how morality is losing its grounding, particularly from religion. There certainly is a crisis in authority today, no doubt. Everything more or less seems up in the air, up for grabs.

I think Psalm 11 is at least encouraging when considering this. And I think it’s suggestive in terms of the spiritual battle we face as Christians (Ephesians 6:10-20).

God is on his throne, God is at work in the world, and his judgments continue. Humankind has routinely erected its idols. All that is in the place of God is idolatry, pure and simple. And such idolatry has tragic consequences. And the religious, including Christians are not excluded. Idolatry is just as alive and well in places where God is supposed to be worshiped as in places where God is not. And in saying that, I’m not at all suggesting that all churches partake in idolatry, just that there’s that possibility, and it clearly does happen. Like when a human leader is exalted and it’s all about going to hear them speak. That is at least on the edge if not over the edge into idolatry.

And note that the idols more often than not either are, or represent something good. Science within its discipline I take as good. All created things, and our capacity to enjoy them are fine in themselves. But when they’re not received and appreciated as gifts from the Creator, and good in their place, but become ends in themselves, then we move into the realm of idolatry.

Such a realm makes the accumulation of wealth for example an end all, so that often in that quest others are trampled on, not the least of which is the poor. And God will not look past any of that. Or if there is no God it doesn’t matter, we can do as we please, as long as it in accord with the idol in place. Greed by the way is called idolatry in Scripture (Ephesians 5:5; Colossians 3:5).

Morality is grounded in humanity because humankind is made in God’s image. Right and wrong matter precisely for that reason. And everyone is held accountable. It matters not what we humans construct in place of that, not at all. God will have his say in the end. In the good judgment and salvation to come in and through Jesus.

“do your best and hang the rest.”

A man who worked at the ministry I work at used to say, “Do your best and hang the rest.” Like me he was in the factory end of it, heavy machinery. A good man, hard worker, man of God.

I think there’s plenty good old fashioned down to earth wisdom in that. It actually reminds me of Proverbs in the Bible. Though I can’t think of a Scripture that actually says the same. But I think we can make a case from Scripture, that this is a part of wisdom.

We live in a world with so many variables, moving parts, and unfortunately all is not in sync. Some of us want to do God’s will and some don’t. Many are trying to do the best they can, others not. It’s impossible to avoid networks, connections with people and entities which may not hold to the same ethical principles. Of course Christians differ as well. It’s all a matter of conscience. We want to do what’s right in the eyes of others, and above all in God’s eyes.

We pray and pray, and wrestle through at times, not knowing for sure what to do. Then we make decisions, trusting somehow God is in them. And we always want to be open to whatever God would have us do.

God looks at the heart and one’s intent. We make mistakes along the way, and there are times they need to be corrected, other times not. God will give us the wisdom to know, though that may take time. All of this processing a part of gathering wisdom. In and through Jesus.

what does it mean to be “pro-life”?

For a good number of us in the United States, the recent video of the Planned Parenthood official giving details about organs to be used for donation highlights for us the evil of abortion. Best case scenario in terms of the videos themselves, we consider this to be the taking of human life, the death of a baby in a womb which otherwise would have come to birth.

Last evening a Facebook share from an esteemed friend who seems often conservative in their politics, I found striking (as well as a bit surprising), and I shared it since I’m more in line with this way of thinking:

I do not believe that just because you’re opposed to abortion, that that makes you pro-life. In fact, I think in many cases, your morality is deeply lacking if all you want is a child born but not a child fed, not a child educated, not a child housed. And why would you think that I don’t? Because you don’t want any tax money to go there.

That’s not pro-life. That’s pro-birth. We need a much broader conversation on what the morality of pro-life is.

—Sister Joan Chittister
Benedictine Nun, Author and Speaker

Kirk Whalum on Instagram

I understand profoundly that there is a basic problem and issue with this statement. I know friends who are conservative Republican, some libertarian –and there are surely many– who do care about the poor. And many good works come from such. So this statement is a non-starter with them. And arguably the entire discussion may fall prey to the political issue before it even gets off the ground, which would be a shame.

What we need to grapple with is just what we’re facing as a nation and the factors involved. Of course the sexual revolution of the 1960s preceeded by a morality based on majority opinion with the blip being the needed resolve and sacrifice during World War II is undoubtedly an issue here. People think they can engage in sexual activity with no consequences as in no births. And the lie that the fetus is nothing more than a woman’s tissue in her body which she should be allowed to do with as she pleases. Of course there is mercy and forgiveness for all who have had abortions in and through Jesus.

There is the issue of how the poor should be helped. Some insist that the government should not be involved at all. In the United States, “we the people” are supposed to be the government. I’m afraid that has been no longer the case for some time due to “special interests,” the lobbyists, and to get more specific: corporations and banks. It seems to me that politics too often has become as much or more about getting wealthy as in serving the interests of the people who elected the politician.

But to the issue: I would argue that churches can’t do it all. And in fact overall seem to be doing not enough in their own neighborhoods. Many conservatives would likely argue that if the government would step aside and fulfill its calling, limited to Romans 13, than the church could step in along with private entities to help the poor. I think it’s not a question of either/or, but and/both. It seems to me that God judges every human society on how its people treat each other and especially how they treat the poor. Certainly for the church helping the poor among us as well as in society is a high priority on what we’re called to do.

If the poor are helped, then arguably there would be less abortions, which historically since Roe V Wade has supposedly been the case. And not only should the women in difficult places be helped so that they can give birth to the baby, but they should be helped to give the child a life in which the needs of the child along with opportunities to do well in life are in place. Encouraging as well, responsible choices on the part of everyone.

When I hear of pro-life as in some organization or candidate, I know it refers to abortion. That’s good, but not good enough. As someone aptly shared with me recently, if the money and effort to get “pro-life” candidates elected and Roe V Wade overturned would have instead been directed to efforts to help curb and eliminate underlying factors contributing to abortion, we may have reduced actual abortions significantly.

At any rate we should have this conversation. Even if we agree in the end to disagree. As followers of Jesus and as his church, we have the same goal: to see lives saved and people flourishing through the gospel to the glory of God.

loving our neighbor as ourselves (politics, health care and abortion)

A question: Is politics and political considerations a place at all for the consideration of loving our neighbor as ourselves? This is the second commandment like the first and greatest commandment, to love God with all of our heart, soul, strength and mind. And yet when I hear politics expressed by Christians, it often doesn’t have anything to do with this, at least not directly.

Political considerations are complex and a quagmire if one completely sells out to this or that position. It seems to me that the only thing we’re to be sold out to as followers of Jesus is the grace and kingdom of God come in him. We have to be careful not to buy totally into any ideology apart from that, I would think.

I am struggling lately on the health care issue. Not because I don’t have a rather clear-cut idea of what I ought to do now, concerning it. Nor because I don’t have a view. I have both, even if humble and not set in stone on either side. In other words, even though I think I may be basically pointed in the right direction, I also think I have plenty to learn, and that there’s plenty of room for improvement as to how it should be done. As well as thinking that we have to be careful in this present existence and world not to expect too much of anything, and to expect problems, sometimes serious, at nearly every turn.

I believe people of their own free will should help the poor. But I also believe that any good society will have a systemic push in that direction. The poor were helped with laws in Israel’s theocracy in the Old Testament, such as leaving some of the harvest behind so that they could glean what was left. And the debts being canceled in the year of Jubilee. No society is a good one if it’s all about everyone looking out for number one. Or even simply for their families. As if personal responsibility, as important as it is, trumps everything else. It doesn’t. In fact what trumps everything else, once again, is what Jesus said is the first and greatest commandment and the second like it: To love God with all one’s heart, soul, mind and strength, and to love one’s neighbor as one’s self.

Now how that is worked out in the politics of the world certainly can differ. Political entities can and should help encourage private donations. Unless one is libertarian and believes government should not be involved in much of anything at all, except perhaps the military in the national and police in the state and local levels. With societal matters looked at in a different matter.

As for myself, I think we should push for certain basic justices in society at large through government, one of them being universal health care. Christians should raise their voice to enact good legislation. And we need to live with both the inevitable imperfection of what will be incomplete with sometimes misguided laws in place. We must remember that just because a law is the law of the land such as abortion, that we as Christians live by another law, that of Jesus and the Sermon on the Mount. So that we don’t support abortion. But even on that issue, we work to reduce their number with the hope that they will someday be all but gone, even in this society.  For those who want to cut them off completely now, a worthy goal (and I applaud and would want to help where I can in that), there must also be set in place policies which help prevent unwanted pregnancies in the first place, as well as helping those who are pregnant, especially the poor and those who are young to carry their babies to full term. Making adoption more accessible to good families would be one important help to that end.

For me it’s not a case of either/or, but and/both. We need to give generously and wisely in helping the poor in our world and in the world at large. And we need a society which not only encourages that, but has laws in place to foster and actualize helping the poor. For example to have the basic health insurance everyone else has. The “Health Savings Account” pushed by the Republicans may be a no-brainer for personal and family considerations (even as it may not help the cause for the poor, who could not benefit much if at all from such an option). But we in Jesus are called to a different consideration and ethic entirely. A love which embraces our neighbor as ourselves. Which is particularly concerned for the poor, for those in need. Even as we continue to pray: “Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”

review of Allan R. Bevere’s book, “All Is Not As It Seems: Random Reflections on Faith, Ethics, and Politics”

Review of Allan R. Bevere’s book, All Is Not As It Seems: Random Reflections on Faith, Ethics, and Politics. One quote from it from this blog.

Allan R. Bevere is a pastor,  professor, first rate scholar and blogger. I had the privilege of meeting him at Ashland Seminary this past summer, in fact he graciously hosted me there. I love this book. It is from the pen of a scholar who has a pastor’s heart so that the book will be of interest to everyone.

His goal is to broach subjects that we’re all interested in, but often squeamish to discuss with others, because heat often replaces light. He wants to model civility, and he wants to write in such a way that civil discussion is stirred. Indeed the book could be used profitably for a group discussion.

Wisdom is the word I would use to describe the book. And I mean down to earth, kingdom of God in Jesus oriented wisdom. I was hit over and over again with thoughts or slants in ways of looking at things which were new to me.  I finished the book knowing I was not finished with it. Food for thought to go back to later and reflect on.

Of course Allan gets into faith, ethics and politics, the title is not misleading. He does so as one who while a pastor, is part of a faith community seeking to live responsibly in the world as salt and light in the Lord. I found that either I was tracking with him, or else he was challenging my own thinking on issues on which Christians are at variance. Insight penetrates to the heart of things, beneath and beyond the surface appearance, so that indeed, “all is not as it seems.”

The book is reader friendly. Each chapter is short and stands on its own, and if Allan were sharing its contents in a sermon or talk, one would have been happy to have been there. But we have each of the fifty talks in a nice paperback.

The good teacher that Allan is, the book left me with the impression that I’d like to talk to the author about this or that from the book, but even more, I’d like to receive counsel from him when I’m in need of such. Of course the Spirit gives to all of God’s people in Jesus to counsel each other, but there are those who are set apart to at least model this well.

Sometimes the thoughts may seem simple, yet on a little reflection one realizes they are profound. At other times I was smiling to myself so to speak over the good insight and clear way he shares it.

Some of the chapter titles: “Why I Do Not Believe in Moral Victories”, “Mother Teresa and the Crisis of Faith”, “The Pain of Loneliness and the Glory of Solitude”, “Doctrine as the Language of Theology”, Disappointments along the Journey”, “Substance is Necessary, But So Is Style”, “Do Not Attempt to Make the Gospel Relevant”, “A Father’s Thoughts on the Occasion of His Daughter’s Graduation”, “Commitment is Serious Business: Some Thoughts on the Gospel of Mark”, “John Wesley on Predestination”, “The False Nature of Self-Defined Salvation”, “Jesus’ Resurrection and Why this World Matters”. Perhaps my favorite chapters (though impossible to say, really) were “Doctrine as the Language of Theology” and “The False Nature of Self-Defined Salvation” in which Allan expresses well the importance of our identity as part of and for community in our orientation in the world as God’s people. The former helps us see why we need to retain words like “forgiveness of sins, grace, sin, judgment, and resurrection” (p 92), etc.

Yes, Allan does get into politics, but not as one defending the right or the left, but as one who humbly but forthrightly seeks to look into and suggest a responsible outlook toward a course of action. As one of Anabaptist persuasion (he is also, along with Wesleyan persuasion which I probably share in, in part) I wrestle over to what extent and how Christians can participate in “the state”, and in politics within it. I think he points to a direction that while challenging, is good. That in some way we do participate, but that our participation is in terms of being people of the cross of Jesus. So that we would work at not being co-opted by the world, while like Daniel serving our God in the world. When one considers the world of politics, how this plays out both in how one serves and how we vote, this is challenging to say the least, but a part of the walk of faith we necessarily take in this world.

This is a book worth way beyond the price and time it takes to read it (only 162 pages). This may seem to be exaggeration, but I don’t mean it that way at all. I am glad that I have a copy and that I’ve read it. It was good for me, even if I would never read it again, but it is a keeper.