gently pushing ahead

Remind them to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show every courtesy to everyone.

Titus 3:1-2; NRSVue

At the beginning of a new week, as the song goes, “rainy days and Mondays always get me down.” I know a guy who loved Mondays, though I’m sure when Fridays got around, he was happy. But as we enter another week, it might be good to ease into it with the realization that in Christ we’re called to simply gently push ahead.

Paul’s words above, or likely written in Paul’s name from someone who followed, have to be seen in their own context before we can bring them over to today, though most of it seems pretty straightforward. The word to be subject to rulers and authorities, probably obedience referring to that, is simply pointing out how Christ-followers are to live in relationship to government. We might very well and should offer conscientious objection against a number of things that the state might prescribe for us to do, like serving in the military, paying taxes for the military, policies which bring harm to the poor and marginalized, along with advocating for what is just and good. But whatever we do with reference to the state, we do as those in subjection. That doesn’t mean what they say goes, or that we have to obey their every decree. But that would be an exception to the rule. We try to live as good earthly citizens, even while our true citizenship is in heaven.

The rest of this again seems pretty straightforward from one generation to the next. To be ready for every good work means just that, and good works are meant to be done out of love for others. To speak evil of no one seems to be one that even the best of us too easily fail to follow today. I think this is meant to underscore the due respect we pay to everyone, but doesn’t mean that we can’t speak the truth. It’s more than easy to transgress that distinction and boundary, falling into words and thoughts that should be left to God’s judgment. But again, I don’t think at all that this means we can’t call out people for what they’re actually doing and saying. Probably most of us will do well to remain silent and pray. A few might be called to speak out.

To avoid quarreling is another one which we easily get, given all the controversy today. Respectful conversation is one thing, quarreling quite another. Arguing or worse. Of course quarreling can be over any disagreement among family, friends, neighbors, even strangers. That is not something we’re to engage in. Gentleness should characterize us, our lives, all we say and do. And right in the fire of life, where it might be easy to become brusque and combative. No, we must remain gentle come what may in every encounter in life. Showing every courtesy to everyone means that we should go out of our way not only not to offend, but to edify. People should know that being well mannered and kindly thoughtful with others is always our goal, what marks us.

All of this can help us to ease into another week, gently pushing ahead into the work and what falls out before us. Knowing that Christ is with us to help us through every aspect of life and challenge that comes our way.

the privileged and the down-and-outs

Contribute to the needs of the saints; pursue hospitality to strangers.

Romans 12:13; NRSVue

Admittedly, the above passage doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with what I want to think a little on today, though it could. I was thinking how so many of our efforts are often with reference to “first world problems” though in the United States where I live, there are people and situations which don’t seem to be included in the “first world.” But my point is that often we pour so much effort in prayers and good works for people who yes, can use the help at certain times, and this is not necessarily bad at all. But what slips off the radar are people and situations which are in grave need, be it homelessness, marginalization and rejection, abject poverty, fleeing from war and threats of violence, and the list goes on.

Should we curtail the prayers and help we give to the privileged? Not at all, not by any means, they need prayer and help, we all do, and no one is ever beyond that need. But we don’t want all of our focus to be just on that, perhaps just on our own world, what we’re aware of. Our heart and concerns need to include other things as well. Jesus in Matthew 25 talks about the division in the final judgment between the sheep and the goats. And what does it have to do with? About the down-and-outs, about those we can easily dismiss as just too many, the need too great for us to even wrap our mind around, or do anything.

While we can have a concern for everything, and indeed should, we certainly can’t help in everything. We need to pray and look and start somewhere. Giving to a trusted charity which does good work. In our case we have given to Mennonite Central Committee which does important relief work around the world. But there are other good organizations as well, doing various needed good works to help those in need.

We don’t leave the privileged behind, never. But we also must look around and consider people and situations in dire need. We might even find such in our own circle, but we need to look beyond as well, expanding our circle so to speak, finding perhaps neglected places, people, and situations in which we can lend a hand along with our prayers, our hearts and lives.


Pursue peace with everyone and the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.

Hebrews 12:14; NRSVue

Holiness has to do with being set apart, other, distinct and different in ways that matter. Some of that will make sense in the world, but some of it will not. God is by definition or description in part, Other. God’s holiness in part is understood that way. And yet somehow we’re to share in that holiness.

So often in the churches holiness is taught to be about moral purity, and especially as it relates to the sexual side. And with that comes all kinds of baggage: from the problems of the purity culture to unchecked scandals in leadership and families. And of course often with an emphasis on the culture war, now turned against transgenders. This is completely misguided. It is interesting that strangely enough, you’ll find queers who are as concerned if not more so about holiness than most straights who often seem to give little thought to it. It is after all, a bit out of fashion.

But we’re told in this passage that without holiness, no one will see the Lord. I take that to mean that it is indeed a prerequisite, required to know and be in fellowship with God. And the difference holiness makes is all the difference. It’s not so much about moral purity, though understood rightly that’s certainly included. At its heart is a love which is just and kind and trusts that there’s always the good to do, the good to become.

If we’re holy, then like God we’ll be different. It’s an “in Christ” difference. But that difference will be about what ultimately unites all humanity: the reality and life of God. And that for all of life. Something we’re called to pursue, and which God will help us find and more and more settle into.

what can I do?

Now the angel of the LORD came and sat under the oak at Ophrah, which belonged to Joash the Abiezrite, as his son Gideon was beating out wheat in the winepress, to hide it from the Midianites. The angel of the LORD appeared to him and said to him, “The LORD is with you, you mighty warrior.” Gideon answered him, “But sir, if the LORD is with us, why then has all this happened to us? And where are all his wonderful deeds that our ancestors recounted to us, saying, ‘Did not the LORD bring us up from Egypt?’ But now the LORD has cast us off and given us into the hand of Midian.” Then the LORD turned to him and said, “Go in this might of yours and deliver Israel from the hand of Midian; I hereby commission you.” He responded, “But sir, how can I deliver Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family.” The LORD said to him, “But I will be with you, and you shall strike down the Midianites, every one of them.”

Judges 6:11-16; NRSVue

The longer I’m on my faith journey, the less I like to focus on individuals and individual faith. But it’s a part of life, an important part of it actually, and while the church in Christ is preeminent for our spiritual journey at this time, it’s not like each one of us is not on a spiritual journey, because we most certainly are.

Just like every story in Scripture, there’s something we can gain, or at least we should make the effort to do so. And it’s not hard to see a few things in the Gideon story. One of the questions I ask myself from time to time is just what I can do. I can see enough from the whole of Scripture and from life that there is indeed plenty I can do. Just learning to pray and continuing in prayer, to grow in that is by itself exponential in importance. Good works will come with real prayer; God will make sure of that.

In the passage above, Gideon is humble, understands his limitations, probably doesn’t appreciate well enough the gift that he has so that God’s call makes little or no sense to him at all. And as we see from the rest of the narrative, he struggles somewhat in his faith, or at least I would consider that to be the case given his seeming propensity to demand signs or proof that it is really God who is speaking to him. I can imagine that had I been living in that time, and it were me, I would have been the same way.

God commissions Gideon, but the key seems to me to be the point God makes that God will be with Gideon. This is something for each of us to take home. We are the called in Christ, yes together primarily, but also out from that into our individual lives, to do the good works God has for us, and to see God’s loving rule in Christ present in all of that.

It’s good to read Judges 6-9, the entire Gideon story, and consider. It may have had a good beginning, but not such a good ending. Nor was it necessarily all good throughout. That is a heads up for us. It’s important that we remain steady, which means continued growth in Christ, and for us, in Christ’s body.

Hopefully good things to remember as we consider yet another fascinating story in Scripture.

we can’t live on anger and hate

You must understand this, my beloved brothers and sisters: let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger, for human anger does not produce God’s righteousness. Therefore rid yourselves of all sordidness and rank growth of wickedness, and welcome with meekness the implanted word that has the power to save your souls.

But be doers of the word and not merely hearers who deceive themselves. For if any are hearers of the word and not doers, they are like those who look at themselves in a mirror; for they look at themselves and, on going away, immediately forget what they were like. But those who look into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and persevere, being not hearers who forget but doers who act—they will be blessed in their doing.

If any think they are religious and do not bridle their tongues but deceive their hearts, their religion is worthless. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself unstained by the world.

James 1:19-27

Always remember, others may hate you, but those who hate you don’t win unless you hate them, and then you destroy yourself.

Richard M. Nixon

There’s not a few things to be angry about and hate these days. And that’s surely true any time, just ratcheted up now. If you don’t react with anger and grief over many things, then you’re not human.

James doesn’t tell us in the above passage not to be angry. And it seems to me to be in the context of human relations into which James is speaking. We’re told to be slow to anger, and that human anger does not produce God’s righteousness.

We can’t live on anger and hate. I find myself believing that I don’t hate the people, but just what they do. That might be true at least to a significant extent, but does anything they do or say get under our skin, so that it becomes personal, and we hold it against them? If so, we’re probably off the green and onto the yellow or red.

As we’ve all probably found out to some extent, and some as in the quote above on public display, anger easily can at least border on hate, and if we’re living on those fumes, it neither helps ourselves or others. We end up going down. I certainly know that firsthand.

It’s far from enough just to abstain from this anger and the hate which so easily accompanies it. If we do that and that’s it, then our faith and religion according to James is empty. We have to act according to God’s word, which means we act in love for God, for our neighbor, for those in need, even for our enemies.

We remember that what we hate is not that far removed from ourselves. There are things in or about us or what we do which are also hate-worthy. We’re all in need of God’s grace. We extend that grace to all others, even the ones we consider totally undeserving, just bad, even dangerous.

We hate all that is wrong, but abstain from expressing such hate to those who are not loving. We do not do as they do, but instead we commit ourselves to living in love. Doing just what needs to be done, including what needs to be said but with careful wisdom, in that love only. And when we are not animated by that, we hold ourselves back and do nothing until we can get our proper bearings.

Avoiding the destructive anger and hate which will help no one. And committing ourselves to the love with which we’re helped to help all others.

(I’m having trouble linking right now.)

giving up on praying is not an option

He was praying in a certain place, and after he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.” So he said to them, “When you pray, say:

Father, may your name be revered as holy.
May your kingdom come.
Give us each day our daily bread.
And forgive us our sins,
for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.
And do not bring us to the time of trial.”

And he said to them, “Suppose one of you has a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread, for a friend of mine has arrived, and I have nothing to set before him.’ And he answers from within, ‘Do not bother me; the door has already been locked, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything.’ I tell you, even though he will not get up and give him anything out of friendship, at least because of his persistence he will get up and give him whatever he needs.

“So I say to you, Ask, and it will be given to you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. Is there anyone among you who, if your child asked for a fish, would give a snake instead of a fish? Or if the child asked for an egg, would give a scorpion? If you, then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”

Luke 11:1-13

We have words from the Lord to teach us how to pray, and simply encouraging us to pray, period. The Spirit helps us as well, and this is especially encouraging because while prayer is something we do, it won’t get through or matter apart from God’s help. But we can be assured that God will help us. We simply must persist. Giving up on prayer is not an option.

What happens at least to me in weakness is that somehow I think I’m short on time to pray. But just the opposite is the case. We can’t afford not to pray. We don’t have time not to pray. There’s actually nothing more important we can do, though rest assured, if we truly pray, we will be doing other things as well. It’s entirely possible that we won’t do as much or get as much done. Though actually we may get more done, certainly in a way that’s better. Apart from prayer, what are we really doing? It will turn out as far as God’s economy is concerned, not very much.

Something like what I’m slowly learning and have to keep coming back to time and again.

another earthquake to kill 20,000 more people (and counting), and don’t forget the war, etc.

There was once a man in the land of Uz whose name was Job.

Job 1:1a

I would like to camp in the book of Job for like a year. Actually if I could become quite a number of people at the same time, I would choose to stay put in various places in Scripture, including the Apocrypha, and just take it in and remain there. Other places too, like in nature. Listening to music, I’ve begun to see the value of just playing the same album day after day, say of piano pieces of Brahms or whatever, instead of just listening to it, and going on to the next.

Job is a wisdom story. There’s no way in my view that it actually happened. It certainly puts God in a disastrous light at the beginning. But it teaches us wisdom. An  important part of that is just the sheer and complete utter unhelpful conventional “orthodox” ways of helping Job dished out to him by his friends. Job couldn’t stomach any of it, not helpful in the least, but quite the contrary, off the mark.

But God finally answers, initially rebukes Job, and then goes on to talk about creation, and if we really can’t fathom its depths, just how can we fathom the depths of the person who created it all. In the end Job is left speechless. It ends up being quite beyond us.

While I believe there are good answers from a God that is good and that all will be good in the end, and yes, I really do believe that, nevertheless there are many many things in this life which can shake us to the core and leave us not only empty, but deeply unsatisfied.

Yes, the book of Job is good, so much depth. Just like all of Scripture we do well to remain there for a time. We should consider it well and camp there, but ultimately we turn to Jesus, God’s revelation in him, Jesus the Word of God. If God became human and died for all to bring life in the love of God, then God will see to it that each and everyone of humankind is taken care of.

But even so, that does not answer the loss of children and others (even cats and dogs, I’ll add horses for my wife, etc.) in tragedies and illnesses. We do well to, unlike Job’s friends, keep our mouths tightly shut while being present, and in the end along with Job not think we have the answer needed.

In the meantime we want to do all we can, somehow enter into the suffering of all through prayers and good works such as sending support to those in need. And while we marvel at the good we find now, we look forward to the Day when once and for all and forever, the great healing will come, and all will be well.

against a passive, non-activist faith

Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself unstained by the world.

James 1:27

For true evangelical faith is of such a nature that it cannot lie dormant; but manifests itself in all righteousness and works of love; it dies unto flesh and blood; destroys all forbidden lusts and desires; cordially seeks, serves and fears God; clothes the naked; feeds the hungry; consoles the afflicted; shelters the miserable; aids and consoles all the oppressed; returns good for evil; serves those that injure it; prays for those that persecute it; teaches, admonishes and reproves with the Word of the Lord; seeks that which is lost; binds up that which is wounded; heals that which is diseased and saves that which is sound. The persecution, suffering and anxiety which befalls it for the sake of the truth of the Lord, is to it a glorious joy and consolation.

Menno Simons

So much of what I’ve seen in evangelical Christian faith is more than less totally about one’s individual relationship with God through Christ with an emphasis on being assured of eternal life, and the best of that, an emphasis on knowing God’s love in one’s own life. Most of that I’ve found good insofar as it goes. But it simply doesn’t go far enough if we take all the pages of Scripture seriously.

If we have the faith of Jesus, we’ll be active on the ground, and that, especially together. This is not a life any of us can live on our own, by ourselves, because the life of Christ is mediated primarily through Christ’s body, the church. In and from that, we can live honoring lives in the love of God and neighbor and enemy as well.

Let’s clarify a bit where that activity nowadays should be. To be concerned about all the injustice that has been meted out and remains even to the present day. To let it be known that this is not acceptable. To do the necessary work in which we’ll mostly be unseen, with the willingness to work in changing systems, in many cases advocating for something entirely new. And all of this simply the natural outworking of our faith. An expression of who we are in Christ.

Yes, we’re totally loved, completely accepted, and helped in every way possible in our life in Christ, and that especially so together. Even as we do struggle due to our human limitations and ongoing resistance by the spiritual and physical principalities and powers. But our faith is active, in good works for the poor and mistreated, not just to bandage the wounds, but stop all that is wrong and work to bring about new beginnings, as well as reparations in the quest for God’s will to be done on earth as in heaven.

Yes, we have the hope that Christ will return. But a major part of being ready if I understand all of Scripture correctly will to be about our God’s business right now, which means a passion to see that light of Day make needed differences in the here and now. That as I understand it is what the true evangelical faith looks like.

imagining a new world even in the here and now

Do not remember the former things
or consider the things of old.
I am about to do a new thing;
now it springs forth; do you not perceive it?

Isaiah 43:18-19

In the context of this prophecy, it’s not at all about some kind of dispensational, “Jesus is coming back” theme. No, it’s about a present to that time matter concerning Israel and Babylon, and suggests an end to the violence endemic then.

Fast forward to the present time, and we again are reminded that indeed, something is quite wrong in the present “law and order” way of doing things. And one of the tragedies is that somehow for probably a multitude of reasons, we can’t imagine any other way of doing things. And worst of all, Christians are often at the forefront of advocating a heavier hand in threatening violence with an unhelpful black and white law paradigm which really ends up not only not helping the problem, but exacerbating it, making it worse, so that more jails are needed. That’s the fictional world which in horror we’ve brought to pass, if only we could see that.

Why instead can’t we imagine a new world, a better world in which we’re all in this together, yes, with wonderful personal freedoms, but also with the merciful accountability and help we all need? In part it’s due to heavy handed poor paradigms we live in, quite apart from the dream God wants us to see and live out.

Most change will take time, and it’s not like there can never be backsliding and even complete loss. Let’s take one example: What I would call the good overturning of patriarchy in different movements which help us see that women indeed are not called to be subservient, but are instead wonderful partners, also gifted in unique ways. That has been a revolutionary thought in the past, and is still rejected by some of the most popular Bible teachers, who in my view are grossly misreading the Bible and life itself. Because of this wonderful new change and awareness, a light has shined in the world which can never be taken back, unless dark ages come which snuff it out. That unfortunately happens. There are always forces of darkness at work in the world which do all they can to push back the light of Day.

Yes, we who have the hope in Christ know that the new Day cannot be held back and that it is coming when Christ returns. But in the meantime we do no one any favor at all to imagine in an astounding lack of imagination that important changes can’t be made now. As I am taught by those who know much more, such change will come only with hard, painstaking, plodding work, and will be incremental. But we must not let up, especially those of us who name the name of Christ. We must hope and pray and envision and work for a much better world now. Desiring the best for all nations and peoples everywhere. Knowing that someday at long last all the darkness will be lost forever in the light of Day.

doing the best imperfect we can

Let your work be manifest to your servants
and your glorious power to their children.
Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us
and prosper for us the work of our hands—
O prosper the work of our hands!

Psalm 90:16-17

I’d like to know one single thing that humans ever did perfectly. That probably depends on what you mean by perfect, and what measure is put forward to determine that. For example, humankind has flown into space, even landed on the moon. The technology to engineer and perform such feats had to take a measure of perfection. Maybe there’s some margin of error in the mix, but if it’s outside of the parameters set, disaster could be the result, or hopefully instead a scrubbed launch or whatever.

When it comes to ethics, we humans usually if not always have something of mixed motives. Maybe not all the impurities are actually sinful, like for example we may feel clumsy among others, and fear being looked down on, or something to that effect. I think we can have the right heart in doing something, out of love, and I’m a bit suspicious that any sin, latent or otherwise has to be in the mix with that.

Regardless of how we parse that, I am encouraged by the thought to just keep doing the best imperfect that I can, and together with others to do the best imperfect we can. Yes, we’re going to make mistakes, and we’ll find out down the road a way that we could have done something better. But I don’t think we humans are called to make sure we do everything perfectly. What does that mean, anyhow? How can we really know? And most importantly, is there anything that is perfect in this existence in some sort of final, permanent sense? I don’t think so.

So we happily press on, just trying to use the best judgment and make the best decisions possible with the limited resources and time we have here. But believing in all of that, that God is able to take our inevitably imperfect thoughts and acts done in love into the perfection of God’s working, both for the present and for the time to come.