casting out into the deep, venturing into the unknown at Christ’s word

Once while Jesus was standing beside the Lake of Gennesaret and the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, he saw two boats there at the shore of the lake; the fishermen had gotten out of them and were washing their nets. He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little way from the shore. Then he sat down and taught the crowds from the boat. When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.” Simon answered, “Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.” When they had done this, they caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to burst. So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both boats, so that they began to sink. But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’s knees, saying, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!” For he and all who were with him were astounded at the catch of fish that they had taken, and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. Then Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.” When they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him.

Luke 5:1-11

This is an interesting, even amazing story at a number of levels. What I would like to dwell on is just one aspect of it. Jesus’s words to those he would subsequently call to be his followers. Telling them to cast their nets into the deep, even though they had just caught nothing after being at it all night. It surely made little to no sense to them. But they did it, and the rest and all that follows is history.

This is akin to what I’ve experienced in the last few years right up to the present time. I’ve been wanting to find a Mennonite fellowship, but none in the area where we moved a few decades back. At a certain point I was informed that there was a new fellowship which had met for some time but had recently become Mennonite. So I looked them up. They were clearly in the activist strain, which was okay to me, but took a strong stand of affirming LGBTQ+ for membership, leadership and marriage. Even though I had questions and tensions with the traditional view, that is where I still landed on that issue at the time. They also take a clear stand in regard to support for the riddance of systemic racism, and I and my wife were totally on board with that.

After getting together with them one Sunday online due to COVID, I decided we just couldn’t go through with this. Deb was leaning on me for the decision during that time, surely praying. And I had a great peace, I take it as psychological now, and slept like a baby. But oddly enough I had a strong sense, it is almost as if the Lord were appearing to me in my imagination, and telling me, You don’t have to come, but I’m very much present here. And so we showed up the next Sunday, and we’ve never turned back.

Around the same time, probably shortly after, it was as if the Lord told me that I need to be in the book of James. And I have ever since, and it has been amazing, even life changing, though of course that is incremental. I’ve come a way, and certainly have a long way to go.

Now something similar is happening to me with regard to anxiety. If you know me, or have read this blog much at all, you’ll realize that anxiety has been an ongoing, nearly always an issue with me. I’ve struggled with it, virtually lived in anxiety for years and decades. Although I think I’ve made some progress in how I deal with it, it still could set me back on my heels and worse. Well recently I think I’m beginning to hear the call to launch out into the deep and simply refuse to worry, to be anxious. And to see the newest thing that comes to mind that would have always made me anxious before, to simply be a new opportunity to refuse anxiety.

Of course, I do so dialing in to what God has provided in Scripture through Christ. We can do none of this on our own, it’s only God’s grace. We’re a part of a small group which has a strong emphasis on grace, and that has helped much. But paradoxically it will require effort on our part. We have to let go of all our strivings and devices, and make ourselves sit at Jesus’s feet.

This is all about launching into the deep at Jesus’s words. The difference maker is Jesus. Not our interpretation of Scripture, which by the way in regard to the LGBTQIA+ issue I think is suspect and is a door slam shut in the face of true Christ followers. Only Jesus. But we have to listen, really listen. And then we have to follow and keep following. Thankfully Christ is always ahead of us and with us. We’re not on our own. And that together. In and through Jesus.

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.

against reacting, but instead always acting in love

the fruit of the Spirit is love…and self-control.

Galatians 5:22-23; NRSVue

The fruit of the Spirit in our lives as those who are believers in and followers of Christ starts with love and is summed up in love. The actual list ends with “self-control.” I personally find that helpful. Too easily we can react when love is not ruling over us at the time in ways that are not helpful or edifying. We react out of frustration or whatever else it might be. I speak from firsthand experience.

Instead, God wants us to act out of love, which often means not doing anything at all, but if we have to do something, always doing so in and out of love. Self-control may just be a natural response at times because we are being led by the Spirit. And the list here is after all the fruit of the Spirit, not something we do, but is done in us to make us that way. I would prefer mistakenly myself to think that this is something I have to work at. But that’s not the point here. At the same time, we need to seek to walk in the Spirit, be led by the Spirit. The more that’s the case, the better our response will be.

That said, we need to act according to how we know we should, regardless. We might not feel the Spirit’s influence on us at the time, at some critical juncture when we might easily react in a way that is less than helpful. In this work of the Spirit, the Spirit never just makes us automatons as if controlling us. Rather we are made agents graciously by God, alongside with God, entirely dependent on God to make all of this work. It is rather amazing to say the least.

I personally often don’t feel all that well. But that doesn’t mean that the Spirit is not at work in my life, or that I’m not, albeit in some faint way being led or walking in the Spirit. That must be my goal in all of life, whether feeling up or down. Feelings in a sense are beside the point, but we easily react in bad ways, when we feel rather bad. We need to do this regardless of whether we feel well or not.

God will help us in all of this as we commit ourselves to live in the grace God provides for us in Christ, in the freedom to live well that comes to us through the Spirit. In and through Jesus.

love: the perfect harmony

Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.

Colossians 3:14; NRSVue

The love spoken of here is of Christ in Christ’s body, the church. But as we see in this letter from Paul to this particular church, this is not a given, not automatic. When it’s all said and done it is the love of God in Christ given to us by the Spirit worked out in our relationships and relationship with each other, which makes the harmony, indeed perfect harmony that’s needed.

The church and us as individuals together are told to clothe ourselves with love. This is a word about relationships which makes sense when you consider the meaning of love and made clear in this short saying. It is something we have to commit ourselves to, be committed to, realizing the great love of God for us, for each other, and actually for everyone.

Love is what makes it all work together and well, yes “in perfect harmony.” Without it nothing else matters (1 Corinthians 13). And it can’t just be there in the background as it were, simply existent. It must be what makes everything work. God’s love given to us by the Spirit in and through Jesus.

God’s beloved

In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove upon him. And a voice came from the heavens, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

Mark 1:9-11; NRSVue

Jesus went out again beside the sea; the whole crowd gathered around him, and he taught them. As he was walking along, he saw Levi son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax-collection station, and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he got up and followed him.

And as he sat at dinner in Levi’s house, many tax collectors and sinners were also sitting with Jesus and his disciples, for there were many who followed him. When the scribes of the Pharisees saw that he was eating with sinners and tax collectors, they said to his disciples, “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” When Jesus heard this, he said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician but those who are sick; I have not come to call the righteous but sinners.”

Mark 2:13-17; NRSVue

I think I would put The Cure somewhere on the top ten of the books which have most influenced me, or at least most intrigued me. It is a most interesting read, whether or not you agree with it entirely. It’s really not meant to be a book to convince you of this and that doctrine, in spite of somewhat copious although often helpful endnotes. It is a story of the difference between living in grace and religion*, the latter involving unrelenting standards to measure up to with necessary masking to hide the fact that inevitably no one does. The place of grace is entirely different, not only no mask wearing, but hair let down with many tears. People are real, themselves, and completely accepted. Unlike the place of religion where you are accepted on many conditions.

The difference is what the above passages are getting at: the love of God from the God who is love. God has God’s heart set on all humanity, really intent in restoring all of creation, and especially fallen and broken humanity. That is more than evidenced in God becoming flesh meaning human in the Son Jesus through the Incarnation. Completely identifying with us, right where we live with all of its challenges along with our (not his) failure, but with the laughter and joy as well. But it seems especially identifying with those who are mourning, the poor, the oppressed, the downcast, the marginalized. Bringing the healing that can only come from God, healing being synonymous with salvation in New Testament terminology.

If there’s one place I especially feel uncomfortable, it’s with religious folks. Unfortunately you have to add to that nowadays those who are caught up in the tribalism of this or that political persuasion. But lots of those folks are religious, which just becomes either a new rule added on, or understanding among them that it’s simply that way no questions asked.

In contrast to that, God accepts everyone warts and all, just the way we are with all of our blindness, failure and sin. And unlike religion, people are fully accepted in the beloved one, Christ. Christ came that we might through him find our true identity and ultimately our true selves in the reality we are included in with him through faith and baptism, so that we may come to realize that we too are indeed God’s beloved, God’s much-loved ones.

In the end we’re told that God will be “all in all” (1 Corinthians 15) accomplished in and through Christ in his life and reconciling death, so that everyone will be included. It will be a most happy ending, even if it takes some time to get there. No one will be left behind, no one left out. Not even the sad religious folk who somehow imagine themselves better and look down on everyone else (see Gregory of Nyssa, George MacDonald, etc.). Not that judgment and severe judgment isn’t in the mix, because it most necessarily is, but not a rejecting, obliterating fire, but a purging, redeeming fire. But this is another subject entirely.

But the point is that we need to see that “in Christ” we are indeed God’s beloved. That we don’t have to measure up to this and that which other people, even churches might want to impose on us. No, we are not rejected, but God’s children.  In and through Jesus.

*Religion in the sense of something fabricated by humans rather than received from God and regularly practiced and lived out in response to that (example: James 1:26-27).

just don’t do it (and do what is good)

His divine power has given us everything needed for life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and excellence. Thus he has given us, through these things, his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may escape from the corruption that is in the world because of lust and may become participants of the divine nature. For this very reason, you must make every effort to support your faith with excellence, and excellence with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with endurance, and endurance with godliness, and godliness with mutual affection, and mutual affection with love. For if these things are yours and are increasing among you, they keep you from being ineffective and unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For anyone who lacks these things is blind, suffering from eye disease, forgetful of the cleansing of past sins. Therefore, brothers and sisters, be all the more eager to confirm your call and election, for if you do this, you will never stumble. For in this way, entry into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ will be richly provided for you.

2 Peter 1:3-11; NRSVue

Therefore, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed me, not only in my presence but much more now in my absence, work on your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.

Philippians 2:12-13; NRSVue

Grace in Christ enables us to do better. And when I say do better, I’m referring to breaking longstanding patterns of behavior in ourselves, especially in thoughts, attitudes, actions and words. This may sound very much dependent on ourselves, self-help, works of the flesh including our own self-effort. But strictly speaking, it’s not that at all. Grace in Christ by the Spirit from God underlies it all. We can do nothing apart from that grace extended to us in Christ. But within and through that grace, we can indeed make necessary and radical change. Some things might take hold overnight, but other habits we have may take days, weeks and more to be resolved. The important thing is that we’re heading in the right direction.

We need to stop ourselves in our tracks and say, “Enough is enough.” And not tolerate what we know is wrong or unhelpful, even when we’ve justified it and had good reasons for it in our own minds. God’s call in Christ is radically different, calling us to something much better, putting love for God and others at the forefront, with all humility and gentleness. What is being referred to here certainly includes everything. And it involves even something like a strategic mindset on our part, planning and catching ourselves when we either do the old thing or are about to do it. Being upfront about it. Yes, working on what God is working in us both in terms of willing and doing what is right and good.

In and through Jesus.

awaiting justice and mercy

He has told you, O mortal, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?

Micah 6:8

Advent involves the anticipation of God’s justice at long last coming to earth, but a justice that is full of mercy. As we’re told elsewhere in Scripture:

…mercy triumphs over judgment.

James 2:13b

God in the Person of Christ will return and set things right. And that will be a judgment that is ultimately saving. Yes, to purge the earth of the wicked, of wickedness. To do what only God can do, whatever that is, along with how God will do that. We see this worked out in our lives now. God doesn’t just correct us, sometimes when necessary with loving discipline, which to us can be painful. God also sets us in a new path, one full of justice, righteousness, peace, and joy.

What God has done and is doing in our own lives, we can anticipate God wants to do and will do for all, at Christ’s return and perhaps beyond. Now we get into waters which are over our heads in that there is no completely clear word, though theologians vary in this within Christian orthodoxy (note Gregory of Nyssa).

We wish for all what we have received and are receiving from God. In the meantime we seek to do what is just, loving kindness, as we walk in full humility before God, not imagining for a second that we are in less need of God’s grace and help than anyone else. In and through Jesus.

doing what is right

Anyone, then, who knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, commits sin.

James 4:17

It is Advent season, and while I’m thinking of writing some posts related to that, in a sense we’re always in the attitude of Advent in that we await the return of Christ. Advent involves a longing anticipation. We long for Christ to return and set the world right. Even while we await now the celebration of Christ’s first coming as nothing less than a baby boy born into the world, albeit a miraculous conception and fully human birth.

In the meantime we carry on, yes, as the passage tells us above, always seeking to do what we know is right to do. In the above context (click link) it’s about being humble about one’s plans, acknowledging that all depends on God’s will. Not supposing that we are in control of our lives and their outcome. And this attitude of knowing what is right and then doing it covers just about anything and everything imaginable.

It’s not like we can do this in our own strength and resolve. We can’t. But by God’s grace and the help that comes with that, we indeed can, however faltering and weak it may be. And God can help us gain strength so that regardless of internal and external pressures opposing us, we set ourselves to do what we understand to be right, so that this becomes a part of what we do, who we are. And so that when we deviate from that, we quickly repent, make things right as necessary, and go on in the correct practice and attitude which follows.

Something that is to mark us, mark our lives, even in our lives together as well. In and through Jesus.

at all times, bless God

I will bless the LORD at all times;
his praise shall continually be in my mouth.

Psalm 34:1

It is like a revelation to us, really for our own good, but out of the blue, really into the darkness of our too often down in the mouth existence, a light coming to tell us to bless God no matter what, specifically “at all times.” There is nothing more uplifting, though at the same time it can also seem to be nothing more mysterious than this. And we need to read the entire psalm to appreciate the context, God’s goodness and grace to us (click above link).

But this is a needed breath of fresh air to us, something in which we’re to regularly be engaged, yes “at all times.” The praise of God always being in our mouth. Through hymns sung, in prayer, and all of this spurring us on in love in how we live.

In and through Jesus.

are we improving?

His divine power has given us everything needed for life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Thus he has given us, through these things, his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may escape from the corruption that is in the world because of lust, and may become participants of the divine nature. For this very reason, you must make every effort to support your faith with goodness, and goodness with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with endurance, and endurance with godliness, and godliness with mutual affection, and mutual affection with love. For if these things are yours and are increasing among you, they keep you from being ineffective and unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For anyone who lacks these things is short-sighted and blind, and is forgetful of the cleansing of past sins. Therefore, brothers and sisters, be all the more eager to confirm your call and election, for if you do this, you will never stumble. For in this way, entry into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ will be richly provided for you.

2 Peter 1:3-11

We are often enough painfully aware of faults and shortcomings. That we certainly don’t measure up to the full stature and perfection of Christ. I really don’t like to chalk that up to being fallen. Yes, we are still recovering from all that we were, referring to the bad and the ugly. But “in Christ” we’re a new creation already, but needing to live out what God is working in us. In the words of this Petrine letter quoted above, we’re to put our full effort into living out of the new divine nature in which we’re participants.

The question is: Are we improving? You certainly can’t tell that from day to day. It takes time, more like from year to year or more to notice improvements. But it’s good to note such.

We first need to be aware of our faults, and not just shrug them off and forget about it. But take it seriously, seeking to change. And in the words above: make every effort to support our faith with goodness, then on and on.

Where do we start? Right where we live, on the very thing that is troubling us, in which we’re not doing very well. Perhaps in our reactions to it and all that’s involved in that. We may keep it mostly to ourselves, but it is still troubling us inside. Whatever it is, we want to see improvement over time, change. And we’re very much involved in that, as the text indicates above. And the above passage implies that it is not only an individual effort, but involves community in Jesus.

Along with our own effort is God’s enabling. Yes, it’s a struggle. But God is present to make the needed difference. But we must participate in what God is doing, otherwise as the above text intimates, it will not take hold, it won’t do any good.

So let’s not give up and give in, but carry on, with all the effort we can muster. To become what we’re not, seeing change toward that. So that just as we realize we’re different in some ways, even if it’s a humble difference, then say a year ago, we’ll also see a difference a year from now, should we still be alive in this present existence. In and through Jesus.