to avoid condemnation: a living, active faith

Beloved, do not grumble against one another, so that you may not be judged. See, the Judge is standing at the doors!

Above all, my beloved, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or by any other oath, but let your “Yes” be yes and your “No” be no, so that you may not fall under condemnation.

James 5:9, 12

James would argue, and I believe Paul supports that if we consider every part of Paul’s writings, that it’s not enough to believe, to simply have faith in Christ to avoid condemnation. Faith apart from works certainly involves receiving forgiveness of sins and eternal life. But James points out that this faith which receives is also to be a faith which gives in response to God and God’s gift and favor given to us. Otherwise there is no true saving faith at all, and one is left condemned because of their commissions and omissions in failing to love God and love one’s neighbor as themselves. But in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ (note James 2:1; NRSV) we are called to a faith that not only rests in God’s promise in Jesus, but is also active in pursuing together God’s call for us in Christ. 

when weary, keep going

Gideon and his three hundred men, exhausted yet keeping up the pursuit, came to the Jordan and crossed it.

Judges 8:4

Gideon and his three hundred arrived at the Jordan and crossed over. They were bone-tired but still pressing the pursuit.

Judges 8:4; MSG

First of all, we read these passages today, all for our profit in some way, but not all are prescribing or describing how we’re to live as followers of Jesus. Much that is recounted actually was not good even in its time. So we can’t use this passage to sanction un-Jesus-like activity, such as violence, even when considering it just. We do see in what follows that Gideon sought to provide needed food for the men with him. So that’s indeed a good takeaway for us. We need to take care of ourselves, not just let the candle burn on both ends until we burn out.

But a good point for us to take home here is that when we’re weary, bone-tired, we need to keep doing whatever it is we’re called to do, or fulfilling the sense of calling God has given us. Yet remember the needed rest and sustenance, especially directly from God, both physically and spiritually.

We want to keep at it full bore, giving it everything we have, of course not just working hard, but smart as they say nowadays. Putting our full heart and strength into it. Even when we are so tired.

Rest is essential. But I’m talking about those times and days when it’s not easy to keep going, or you think you’re reaching the end of your strength. Remember that in our weakness the Lord’s strength is somehow perfected. We want to depend on the Lord, and look to God for renewed strength. We need that inwardly and outwardly, both. God will provide. We will make it through in all our weakness and imperfection, as we seek to follow the Lord, and what we know is good, right and true. In and through Jesus.

a justified life

What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.

But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.”

Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds. You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.

You foolish person, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless[a]? Was not our father Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. And the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,”[b] and he was called God’s friend. You see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone.

In the same way, was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction? As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.

James 2:14-26

The evidence that we’re in Christ and his followers will be a changed life of love for God and for our neighbor by good works, the things we do. A justified life is living out God’s mercy in the world. We hope for justice as well, that is addressing wrongs and making things right even in this life. Christ took on himself all the injustice humans could possibly give him through the cross. Ironically in that way God’s justice could break through beginning in the lives of his followers, and out from them into the world. But always in the same way of Jesus, the way of love in the cross.

A justified life certainly involves both faith and works. Only God can set us on this path as we respond in faith and baptism to his calling. Like Abraham and Rahab, and all the faithful, we need to respond in faith. That will certainly involve a change of life, and along with that, the new course God gives us. In and through Jesus.

to the quiet

A song of ascents. Of David.

My heart is not proud, Lord,
my eyes are not haughty;
I do not concern myself with great matters
or things too wonderful for me.
But I have calmed and quieted myself,
I am like a weaned child with its mother;
like a weaned child I am content.

Israel, put your hope in the Lord
both now and forevermore.

Psalm 131

The older I get, the more I would like to stay out of endless controversy. Yes, you might score some points on someone’s ledger here and there, but to what avail? I do appreciate those in difficult callings, such as political, who try to work through difficult policy issues in seeking to govern and represent the people who elected them. Nowadays there’s no end to the strife which accompanies it.

As people of God, I think we have to ask ourselves just what our calling from God is. And to understand that, we must turn to God’s word, Scripture, the Bible. And pastors and teachers, and I’ll add scholars, must lead the way. But there’s a place for everyone, regardless of what part we might play.

My role I think is mainly to be a witness of God’s work of grace in my own life. I would like to say more, since I am a person of words. But I’m learning to be quiet. And to listen. And then maybe offer a word or two probably more for my own benefit than anyone else’s. In and through Jesus.

discouraging thoughts

You deceived me, Lord, and I was deceived;
you overpowered me and prevailed.
I am ridiculed all day long;
everyone mocks me.
Whenever I speak, I cry out
proclaiming violence and destruction.
So the word of the Lord has brought me
insult and reproach all day long.
But if I say, “I will not mention his word
or speak anymore in his name,”
his word is in my heart like a fire,
a fire shut up in my bones.
I am weary of holding it in;
indeed, I cannot.

Jeremiah 20:7-9

We are all wired differently. Jeremiah seems to have been a person who was easily, or at least often discouraged. When you consider what he was up against right from the get go, that he was submerged in discouraging thoughts is hardly a surprise. That he was able to continue on and be faithful to God’s calling to him for nearly 40 years is a testament of God’s faithfulness in his life. The fact is that for Jeremiah God’s word overrode everything, including his discouragement.

When your words came, I ate them;
they were my joy and my heart’s delight,
for I bear your name,
Lord God Almighty.

Jeremiah 15:16

That was said in the midst of turmoil. God and God’s word made the difference needed. Both in settling the prophet, as well as the message he had to set before others.

This is written for us today, and surely should encourage us in the midst of our own difficulties to keep on keeping on in the path God has for us. We can take consolation that it wasn’t easy for Jeremiah, either. Of course we can’t compare our situations with his. Most of us experience nothing so actually dire. But our experiences are just as real.

God will keep us going as we continue on in God’s word and prayer, whatever we have to deal with, no matter what comes. God will help us. In and through Jesus.

holding on to progress in the faith

Only let us live up to what we have already attained.

Philippians 3:16

Paul is referring to the high call of God in Christ Jesus. A cross-shaped life for sure as we see in the passage itself (click above link). All that is contrary to that is to be considered as nothing more than garbage.

It is wonderful to receive insight and make significant changes. And then it may seem that you’re at a new level, which actually may well be the case. But it is remarkable and disconcerting how almost invariably over time one not only can, but will drift back into the old attitudes or actions.

So Paul’s words here are helpful. They shouldn’t be isolated from their context, but still need to be considered carefully. The emphasis is on how we live. And the context for that is the entire book of Philippians, and for that matter we can say the entire Bible, according to the gospel which is its ultimate focus and fulfillment.

There’s no doubt that once we’ve stepped into a new light and air, it is egregious to us to drift back into the old. We can be sure that all of our advances will be challenged by Satan, and we can say, tested by God. Are we committed to the new course come what may? Or will we yield to the temptation to go back to our old ways?

We need to hold on to what we’ve attained, live up to that. That is part of pursuing the high calling of God in and through Christ Jesus.

do the next “good work”

…we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

Ephesians 2:10

Sometimes we live what we imagine is a necessarily frazzled existence. We fly by the seat of our pants in what amounts to essentially unmanageable situations at times. And can live there for a time or longer.

What I think God has been teaching me lately is to relax more, and simply go to the next “good work” God has for me. And when I think of good work, I’m not thinking of anything big at all. Just a bunch of little things, which in themselves may seem insignificant, but put together can mean a lot. Actually meant to be part of one’s life. God has done a good work in us, so that we might do good works for others.

I little know what might be next, but I take whatever I believe has been assigned to me, and try to do it the best I can. That doesn’t mean I’ll just take anything and everything. Of course I’ll do all within the sphere of my responsibility. But there are extras on the side we might try out, and find that although we might be able to do it, it just isn’t something that we resonate with, perhaps even disliking it. That doesn’t mean that we’re going to like everything that comes our way, which we have to do. But we need to differentiate between those things we’re called to do, and what we’re not actually called to do, but are for someone else.

So for me, late in my life, this is a breakthrough of sorts. Simply relaxing into my next “good work,” doing the best I can at it, before I do the next “good work.” With rest in between, in part finding my “rest” in all of this. In and through Jesus.

Jeremiah’s sorrow

Since my people are crushed, I am crushed;
I mourn, and horror grips me.
Is there no balm in Gilead?
Is there no physician there?
Why then is there no healing
for the wound of my people?

Oh, that my head were a spring of water
and my eyes a fountain of tears!
I would weep day and night
for the slain of my people.
Oh, that I had in the desert
a lodging place for travelers,
so that I might leave my people
and go away from them;
for they are all adulterers,
a crowd of unfaithful people.

Jeremiah 8:21-9:2

I remember a wonderful seminary professor telling us that pastors’ life spans are probably cut short due to all they have to go through, not the least of which, carrying the burdens of people in their hearts. Jeremiah is a most interesting, surely complex prophet. His book is actually the longest in the Bible, and he endured years of suffering both internally and externally.

Jeremiah shared in the suffering of his people, forbidden by the Lord to marry because of God’s judgment to come (Jeremiah 16). He suffered much, and is rightfully called “the weeping prophet.” The book of Lamentations, at least in his tradition if not written by him is remarkable in both its pathos and what is actually said.

The ability to enter into the suffering of others, to even share in that suffering, and especially so when it is the consequences of their own terrible choices is indeed a gift from God. It is much more likely that one shakes their head, with maybe a hint of grief, then carries on with their own life, maybe putting it out of mind on purpose. After all, who can carry such weight? And I know there are Christians who think that to do so is somehow not spiritual. How it is done may not be all that spiritual or Spirit led, but the idea that it’s done at all is surely marked with firm precedent in Scripture. And is not our Lord rightly called a man of sorrows, who wept over Jerusalem and its judgment to come?

Jeremiah had to carry a heavy burden. The Lord surely helped him, and enabled him to do it for so long. And not only people in his day were blessed because of that, but so were generations which followed right up to the present day who can read his writings and the account of that time. Lamenting is a part of life, even the godly life. Some are more inclined to it, but it is a gift for us all. Entering into something of the heart of God for people. In and through Jesus.

patiently finishing

The end of a matter is better than its beginning,
and patience is better than pride.
Do not be quickly provoked in your spirit,
for anger resides in the lap of fools.

Ecclesiastes 7:8-9

This for me is related to my recent post, in it for the long haul. This is about finishing what one has started along with not becoming easily worked up.

Not everything we start should be finished, at least not by us. Maybe we shouldn’t have started it in the first place, or it could be that it’s more like a project we have a part in.

It’s important to attempt to discern whether or not God has really led us to some endeavor, or at least given us the gift and peace to do so, or whether it’s something we’ve latched onto ourselves under some other inspiration such as being impressed by what someone else is saying or doing. This requires mature reflection over Scripture for a period of time as well as input from others. And prayer along with more prayer.

When we’re convinced that this is something God wants us to do, then we begin, but from the end. In other words we have something of the vision from God as to what we’re to become and do, our niche or place so to speak, and we proceed accordingly. We may want to do something different at times, but if we’re sufficiently impressed with the realization that what we’re inclined to do is not in line with what God has given us, then we can stop ourselves, step back and return to what we’re called to do. Patience finishes what is started, whereas pride is more than happy to barge in, or start something supposedly great, maybe even finish it. Patience plods along, while pride runs hard, often roughshod over others.

What can get us off track, or me anyhow, is being too easily provoked and as a result wanting to do something now. When I would be better off, and those around me, to simply pray.

This requires the ongoing discipline of being in God’s word and prayer. And continuing there. So that we can begin to understand and fulfill God’s direction for us. What we’re to finish in the patient endurance that is ours in and through Jesus (Revelation 1:9).

being a prophet, a lonely calling

Today we praise and appreciate the prophets of old, I’m thinking of the Old Testament/Hebrew Bible. Isaiah, Jeremiah, Amos come readily to mind. I have a friend who really is gifted and would be well received in any university setting including Harvard and the like. But his thought is on the edge against where people comfortably live.

I’m thinking of prophet in terms of the classical Biblical sense, and more in line with the Old Testament prophets, than the New Testament ones. There definitely was some foretelling of the future, but the brunt of their message was God’s word against sin, and specifically especially sins of injustice which violated loving not only God, but one’s neighbor as one’s self. And the message is ordinarily directed to God’s people who somehow are violating their covenant with God.

Prophets characteristically, while they have some following, are not treated well. They speak truth to power, and find plenty of opposition. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. comes clearly to mind, whom I consider the greatest prophet of the twentieth century, certainly in that mold. See Allan R. Bevere’s thoughtful post. Jesus certainly spoke about this (Matthew 23).

I consider myself a follower of the prophetic. I often feel compelled to take a stand against what I perceive to be unjust. And particularly when God’s people seem implicated somehow in that. I intensely dislike being involved in that. And almost inevitably, I see myself as sharing some guilt somehow in the matter. And feelings can be misleading. But if we never do what we’re moved to do, then we become something less than human. The key is whether or not we are being moved by God and wisdom, which actually is more than a moment of inspiration, but involves incremental growth over a lifetime.

For those who are prophets, as we see in scripture, and in life, it is indeed lonely. And even their followers can often share in something of what that prophet faces. If you leave the mainstream, especially of those around you, and are no longer “politically correct,” which simply means not in line with them, then you will lead a lonely life indeed. All prophets have to struggle with that. And with even worse at times, as well.

A difficult, lonely calling. Marked by mistakes along the way for any of them, but somehow having God’s signature.