judging and favoring others versus showing mercy

My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favoritism. Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in filthy old clothes also comes in. If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, “Here’s a good seat for you,” but say to the poor man, “You stand there” or “Sit on the floor by my feet,” have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?

Listen, my dear brothers and sisters: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who are exploiting you? Are they not the ones who are dragging you into court? Are they not the ones who are blaspheming the noble name of him to whom you belong?

If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing right. But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers. For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it. For he who said, “You shall not commit adultery,” also said, “You shall not murder.” If you do not commit adultery but do commit murder, you have become a lawbreaker.

Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment.

James 2:1-13

James makes it clear that favoritism of any kind is never acceptable. As Christians we should go out of our way to include those who would be marginalized for whatever reason in our group. And that means everyone. Certainly it’s not suggesting that everyone can be considered Christian, or members of our church. But it’s fully accepting and welcoming everyone’s presence.

And we are not to give special favors to those who we think might be a blessing to us, for example the wealthy, who might give generous sums of money. Or think somehow that they’re a cut above the rest. We’re not to think and act as the world does, but as “believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ,” as those who follow Jesus.

Loving our neighbor as ourselves is the criteria here, informed by specific commands such as not committing adultery, and not murdering, called “the royal law found in Scripture.” So that we are to be true both to the letter, there are absolutes, and to the heart which is love. In the end, we are all judged by the law that gives freedom. That freedom comes in the form of mercy. We ourselves are in need of it, and we’re to show that same mercy to others. Which through Jesus always triumphs over judgment. In other words it’s freely offered to all who repent and believe. Freely received and freely given in and through Jesus.

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why don’t we trust the Father?

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

“The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy,[a] your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are unhealthy,[b] your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!

“No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life[c]?

“And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

Matthew 6:19-34

I like to quote more than less, and often include the context on the links. We have the unhealthy practice of taking verses out of context, so that our application of them might not be at all in keeping with the context.

Jesus’s words here from the Sermon on the Mount have to do with faith in the context of money, and devotion to God. And material things as well. Actually here, basic necessities for life. Of course, while we have to read all that’s said here in its own context, we also have to consider that in the context of all of scripture. When reading this, some might draw the conclusion that planning for the future is unnecessary. But Jesus was not saying that. And other scripture contradicts that (Proverbs 13:11).

It’s all a matter of devotion and trust. We are called to be responsible with money, but not devoted to it. Our devotion first and foremost is to be to God only. Which doesn’t mean we are not devoted to our spouses, families, or loved ones. True devotion to God will enhance our devotion to others. But we’re not to be devoted to money. Scripture tells us that the love of money (not money, itself) is a root of all sorts of evil (1 Timothy 6:6-10). Note Jesus’s language about the eye, and the NIV footnotes that it has to do with either being generous or stingy.

And Jesus teaches us to trust our heavenly Father. That he will indeed take care of us. That instead of worrying about whether our material needs will be met, we need to seek first God’s kingdom and righteousness. And then how all that we need will be then be taken care of.

I think that often a big part of our struggle is the desire to have our needs and I must add, wants fulfilled on the world’s terms. The world tells us we need such and such an amount of this and that. But as followers of Jesus, we are to live in a way in which, while we should enjoy all that God richly provides for us, we have a heart to bless others, the very heart of God (1 Timothy 6:17-19).

And so in this key, basic way we’re to follow Christ, as he taught in his foundational sermon. In utter devotion to and trust in God. In and through Jesus.

 

finding out what pleases the Lord

For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) and find out what pleases the Lord.

Ephesians 5:8-10

Oftentimes in our lives, we seem at a loss for one reason or another to know just what to do, or before that, how to think. We do need to act thoughtfully, or based on what is good, or even best. And that is surely whatever might be pleasing to the Lord: the fruit of the light that marks us as children of light– all goodness, righteousness and truth, all that is good, right and true (translations of this passage).

It makes no difference what spot we find ourselves in, what we’re facing, or what’s going on. We need to seek one goal only: to please the Lord. As we do that, God will help us, and be for us all the help we need. It is secondary what we’re actually going through. What is primary is whether or not we’re endeavoring through it all to live out the light that we already are in the Lord. What the devil wants us to succumb to is whatever would block or hide that light from ourselves and others.

To help us understand what would please the Lord is to thoughtfully ponder based on scripture and what we’ve learned by the Spirit as to what is good, right and true. So that we leave behind whatever is not in those categories. Of course that will involve ongoing repentance. But this realization and thought can help us refuse to go places we might naturally go simply because we know that such is not pleasing to the Lord.

As we endeavor to prayerfully practice this, the Lord will verify to us what indeed is pleasing to him, and what is not. We will understand one way or another. That may seem subjective, but it is based on what is objective. And certainly involves relationship with a person, the person of Christ himself. All in and through him.

 

the call to complete discipleship not only to those in ministry, but to us all in Jesus

In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples.

Luke 14

We often think that only pastors or those in “full time Christian service” are called to be completely set apart for ministry (2 Timothy 2), while the rest of us will even necessarily be engaged in the affairs of this world.

But Jesus’s call to discipleship is to us all. We remember that Jesus himself was fully involved in the world he was raised up in. Doing carpentry or whatever kind of work it was (whatever the term actually means) up until the time of his call to ministry at around the age of thirty. But that time did not exempt him at all from complete devotion to his Father, which we have inklings of in the narrative before, when he was a twelve year old in the temple (Luke 2). The world system or aspects of it which are opposed to God (systemic evil) we must be completely opposed to. But the everyday matters which can occupy our lives, and so much of our time, we’re to be fully engaged in to the glory of God. And to do so as those who are followers of Christ by the Spirit.

This certainly involves so much as spilled out and spelled out in scripture. And only possible by God’s grace through the Spirit. Through God’s call we can overcome and follow fully. Even though along the way we will stumble, and we won’t do it perfectly. But we want to endeavor to get back up, keep going, and keep on following no matter what. Given to us, completely a gift in and through Jesus.

the call to prayer

Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. “Simon,” he said to Peter, “are you asleep? Couldn’t you keep watch for one hour? Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”

Mark 14:37-38

The occasion was Gethsemane, and our Lord was in desperate straits. He took his three closest disciples with him, and then went off alone to pray. He had told them to keep watch, but he expected them to pray as he was praying. Instead they fell asleep.

What Jesus did that night has some mystery to it, but it was the final wrestling in prayer before he gave his life over in the will of the Father to receive the cup of judgment he was to drink at the cross in his suffering and death. He had walked steadily toward this inevitable hour, having set his face like a flint, it says, to do so. But now it had, as it were, rushed upon him, like waters breaking in to put one in danger of drowning.

Our Lord’s habit was to regularly pray, spending much time with the Father in solitude. He was again alone with the Father, but this time with his three closest disciples not far away. He surely wanted them to note what he was going through, to learn from his example, to try to begin to emulate it themselves you would think, from what the above text says. It was certainly an occasion for teaching them, and all of us.

Sometimes for me, I wish it was less often, it seems like life is caving in in a number of ways. I can panic and take matters into my own hands, which I’ve been good at over the years. Or I can learn to do what Jesus told the disciples, and by extension, tells us even today to do. Watch and pray. So that I won’t enter into temptation to give in to what’s wrong. Because while the spirit is willing, the flesh is weak.

For me I see all such inwardly challenging times as a call to prayer. Even an opportunity for that. Not that I feel like praying, though I want to train my mind and heart in that direction. Praying for myself and for others, and continuing in prayer, seeing it as spiritual warfare, which surely was the case for our Lord at Gethsemane. And when I go through periods of time like that, I want to be devoted to prayer all the more.

It does seem like Jesus was challenged in his spirit, not wanting to drink this cup. Jesus was not willing himself, but he was indeed willing to do the will of the Father, come what may, no matter what. Jesus was weak in the flesh, in his humanity, though not having sin like we do. Jesus actually prayed like that because he needed to, so that he could bring God’s salvation to many, even to the world. If he needed to pray in that hour of trial, how much more do we need to, in the weakness of our flesh through which even our spirit can give way. So that we’ll not give in to our own will, but God’s will. In and through Jesus.

 

forsaken

At noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon.And at three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”).[b]

Mark 15:33-34

Jesus prayed the psalms, twice on the cross. He felt forsaken by God, and in the mystery of God, maybe somehow this did happen. I believe that since it’s impossible to separate the Trinity, it was utterly impossible for Jesus to be separated from the Father. But somehow in his experience, that may have occurred. Not in reality. Though that a real abandonment occurred is still the most common understanding I hear in my circles.

There is no question that as to what Jesus had to go through, the cup he drank, the cup of judgment, that he indeed had to face it and go through it himself. Of course he was in the Father, and the Father was in him. But as far as his experience of that goes, it seems that he felt utterly alone. The Father suffered with him in this, but at the same time in the mystery of the Trinity, the Father is somehow distinct from the Son. They are separate persons in the one person of God. We are using human language along with our limited understanding to try to understand what is beyond us. And maybe something of the same might be said for what actually did happen on that cross in Jesus being made sin for us, that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.

I have felt abandoned, indeed rejected. I have seen people try to avoid me. It really hurts. Sometimes you can’t get it out of your mind. Whenever you see that person, that image often comes up. Or one can feel like they really have no friends. People can be friendly, but not really friends. I know better than that, that I have friends, that surely most all of us have some genuine friends at different levels. In my case certainly my wife is my best and closest friend. I can think of others, as well.

What Jesus experienced on that cross is indeed unique. It was for us, and for our sins that he indeed drank that cup of judgment. We are to take up our cross and follow, to become like him in his death, but we won’t ever do so as the Lamb of God did, to take away the sin of the world. We do so as those who follow the Lamb wherever he goes. Who live like Jesus, to be in the process of becoming like him, so that others might see him in us, and might be drawn to him. Jesus said that when he would be lifted up on the cross, he would draw all people to himself. He was abandoned to ultimately not be abandoned.

Now we look to Jesus and we look at him in terms of his suffering and death, in terms of the cross. We know that through that rejection which he suffered because of and for our sins, we ultimately have communion with him, with God, and with each other. That we are never left alone, that the Lord is present with us, just as he has promised. Even through his own experience of being alone in his suffering and death for us on the cross.

grace to continue

The week of Jesus’s death and resurrection, which we now call Holy Week was a most difficult time for Jesus’s disciples, as we see from the gospel accounts. It is practically amazing that all of them except Judas not only were in it for the long haul, but gave their lives up in martyrdom because of their testimony to Jesus, and his death and resurrection.

This reminds me of the grace we need to continue no matter what. Why do some drop out of the Christian faith altogether? Some do, and there are surely a good number of reasons surrounding that. But the crux of the matter from one angle is the failure to simply continue in the grace of God available in Jesus. We see from various passages in the New Testament that simply to continue on in the grace of God is what keeps us keeping on in Jesus. We all need that.

The grace of God here simply refers to what we need to keep us both believing and following our Lord. Of course there is much involved in that, as we see from scripture. We continue to follow Jesus not because of us, or our circumstances. But always because of God’s gift to us in Jesus. Not even with the natural good by creation that is in us, that we are. But only through the new creation in Jesus (2 Corinthians 5:17). And so we follow. Only in and through him.