an important priority for us

News of this reached the church in Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch. When he arrived and saw what the grace of God had done, he was glad and encouraged them all to remain true to the Lord with all their hearts. He was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith, and a great number of people were brought to the Lord.

Acts 11:22-24

I myself am convinced, my brothers and sisters, that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with knowledge and competent to instruct one another.

Romans 15:14

Goodness is inherent in God. God is good as we read over and over again in the psalms. And humans are made in God’s image. What goodness resides in humans is indeed fragile and broken, but existent due to this special work of creation and relationship to their Creator.

Goodness takes on new meaning for followers of Christ. Our goodness is tied to Christ, Christ’s goodness, and God’s goodness given to us through Christ. The Spirit has changed us from people whose goodness is present but mixed with much that is not good into people who have the same kind of goodness as Christ: intent on loving God and loving others as ourselves. And that demonstrated in good works.

It is a gift from God, a part of who we are meant to be as humans, and who we actually are in Christ. That doesn’t mean that there still might be a number of things about us that are not good because that will surely be the case. But goodness should be the dominant desire and drive in us, helping us to confess and renounce and repent of all that is not good.

Ironically the enemy can play on this strength causing us to have unrealistic expectations. We should want pure good in every situation, at the same time realizing that only God can help all the good we desire be realized.

We in Christ and as Christ followers are made good by the Spirit. God’s children with something of the heart of God. In and through Jesus.

the most basic truth for us: God loves us

God is love. When we take up permanent residence in a life of love, we live in God and God lives in us. This way, love has the run of the house, becomes at home and mature in us, so that we’re free of worry on Judgment Day—our standing in the world is identical with Christ’s. There is no room in love for fear. Well-formed love banishes fear. Since fear is crippling, a fearful life—fear of death, fear of judgment—is one not yet fully formed in love.

We, though, are going to love—love and be loved. First we were loved, now we love. He loved us first.

1 John 4:17-19; MSG

There is nothing more basically important to us than the fact that we’re loved, and loved by God no less. We really have to hold on to that and not let go of it. God loves us, each and everyone God has created. God wants relationship with us, even longs for us. And God wants us to live in loving relationship with each other.

We humans are easily given to fear. We’re afraid of this and that, and for understandable, good reasons. But what is more important than that is God’s love. No matter what we face, no matter what happens or might happen, God is love and loves us. And we know because of that, God will take care of everything, that ultimately all will be well. So that even in the midst of the troubles of this life, we live in God’s love. And continue on knowing we’re loved both in our mind and experience.

And out of that love we seek to love others in practical, down to earth ways. In so doing extending God’s love to them in a way in which they’ll hopefully find that same love which exists for themselves.

The God who is love really wants the entire human race to live in that love. And out of that love in love with each other. Even now. In and through Jesus.

what are we here for?

Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

Matthew 22:34-40

When it’s all said and done, we humans exist for two reasons: To love God, and to love people. All of this within, from and through the God who is love. God’s work in Christ in forgiveness of sins and new life is given that we might fulfill this. This is not something we drum up ourselves. We live this out only through God’s grace: God’s undeserved gift to us in Christ.

Everything else in a way is secondary to this, or better is a part of this love to God, as well as love to our neighbor including our enemies (real and imagined). It is through God’s love that we live out this love in response to God. But regardless of how we feel- our experience, our commitment should be to love God and love people.

This same truth comes up in a different context in Luke’s gospel account (10:25-37). Jesus made it clear there that this love is demonstrated on the ground, where people live. We show it by good works of loving service to others, particularly those in need. As well as simply loving everyone, our expression of love to God. In and through Jesus.

in praise of work

Anyone who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with their own hands, that they may have something to share with those in need.

Ephesians 4:28

This is what I have observed to be good: that it is appropriate for a person to eat, to drink and to find satisfaction in their toilsome labor under the sun during the few days of life God has given them—for this is their lot. Moreover, when God gives someone wealth and possessions, and the ability to enjoy them, to accept their lot and be happy in their toil—this is a gift of God. They seldom reflect on the days of their life, because God keeps them occupied with gladness of heart.

Ecclesiastes 5:18-20

There’s no doubt that work can be overrated where I live. Or should I say what we call work? Long hours, whether “blue collar” (like what I do) or “white collar” is the norm, maybe even especially so the latter. The expectations for production, achievement and success only seem to become more and more, not work as God intends. And against greed and graft, of course. But work necessarily is a large part of our lives. Not to be overdone either, but the way in which we provide for our family and ourselves and bless others. Not to be despised.

Work was intended in creation. God works. “The Fall” resulted in difficulty in work, up against the curse imposed on creation, including on ourselves. Yet work continues, and just as we can be blessed, so can the work of our hands.

I often find work therapeutic, helping me get my mind off something troubling or worrisome. Instead having to focus on the task at hand. But I’m not referring to work that is unmanageable, and stretching us beyond what we can achieve and endure. We are limited, and there can be a breaking point. And we indeed need a Sabbath rest, or break from our work. Not just every day after the work time or shift is done, but at least one day at the end of the week, where we can do not only other tasks at hand like house and yard work, but where we can actually just rest, relax and enjoy.

Work especially in collaboration with others, yes in my line simply with others, can be a good exercise in teamwork, in helping each other, each of us stepping up, learning from another, letting others learn and do well while we step back in supportive roles. So many interesting dynamics possible and really at play in work. Developing relationships there which hopefully help both ourselves and others toward the most basic relationship of all: with God. But in the meantime hopefully more and more doing our work in the way God works. In and through Jesus.

what John “the elder” and beloved apostle of our Lord might say to us now from 1 John 3:11-24

For this is the message you heard from the beginning: We should love one another. Do not be like Cain, who belonged to the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own actions were evil and his brother’s were righteous. Do not be surprised, my brothers and sisters, if the world hates you. We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love each other. Anyone who does not love remains in death. Anyone who hates a brother or sister is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life residing in him.

This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.

This is how we know that we belong to the truth and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence: If our hearts condemn us, we know that God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God and receive from him anything we ask, because we keep his commands and do what pleases him. And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us. The one who keeps God’s commands lives in him, and he in them. And this is how we know that he lives in us: We know it by the Spirit he gave us.

1 John 3:11-24

For this is the original message we heard: We should love each other.

We must not be like Cain, who joined the Evil One and then killed his brother. And why did he kill him? Because he was deep in the practice of evil, while the acts of his brother were righteous. So don’t be surprised, friends, when the world hates you. This has been going on a long time.

The way we know we’ve been transferred from death to life is that we love our brothers and sisters. Anyone who doesn’t love is as good as dead. Anyone who hates a brother or sister is a murderer, and you know very well that eternal life and murder don’t go together.

This is how we’ve come to understand and experience love: Christ sacrificed his life for us. This is why we ought to live sacrificially for our fellow believers, and not just be out for ourselves. If you see some brother or sister in need and have the means to do something about it but turn a cold shoulder and do nothing, what happens to God’s love? It disappears. And you made it disappear.

My dear children, let’s not just talk about love; let’s practice real love. This is the only way we’ll know we’re living truly, living in God’s reality. It’s also the way to shut down debilitating self-criticism, even when there is something to it. For God is greater than our worried hearts and knows more about us than we do ourselves.

And friends, once that’s taken care of and we’re no longer accusing or condemning ourselves, we’re bold and free before God! We’re able to stretch our hands out and receive what we asked for because we’re doing what he said, doing what pleases him. Again, this is God’s command: to believe in his personally named Son, Jesus Christ. He told us to love each other, in line with the original command. As we keep his commands, we live deeply and surely in him, and he lives in us. And this is how we experience his deep and abiding presence in us: by the Spirit he gave us.

1 John 3:11-24; MSG

I would like to emphasize three things at the beginning. First of all, I can’t really know what John would say, and I’m especially thinking of him in his old age when he wrote this letter. And even if I could, what he would say would not be inspired in the same sense as this letter is, being part of Holy Writ. Yet I’m sure we would all be bending our ear to hear all he would humbly put forward, one of Christ’s Apostles, who has seen so much, and taken it in well. All of this fast forwarded with John seeing and understanding our present times in the backdrop of history. A tall task for anyone, including historians and theologians, or we could say historical theologians, etc.

I think John might pause here to draw the line between love and hate. How we either are doing one or the other. That we’re to reject hatred of our brothers and sisters who may differ with us on the issues of the day. I think John might also warn against getting caught up in the culture war, on one side or the other. Our call is to follow Christ and be obedient to Christ’s commands. The foremost of which is to love our brothers and sisters in Christ. And even to love our enemies.

If we don’t love, it can easily turn into hate. We might think otherwise, but that really does seem to be the case. For us in Christ, it’s either the Spirit of Christ or the flesh, one or the other. And the flesh is allied with the spirit of the antichrist within the unholy trinity of the world (system), the flesh, and the devil. Hating someone is equal in God’s eyes to murdering them in our hearts. And we can’t be tepid in our love, because we know the God who is love. This is quite slippery in its deception for all of us, who think we’re on the right side, that we have it right when it comes to the issues of the day, and/or our stance on them, which in itself is a bit pompous. Are we going out of our way to love those on the other side who are one with us in Christ? Not to mention those who may well have an empty profession of faith, evident in their misdeeds.

It is easy to be distraught about what is going on, about others, and maybe especially about ourselves. We feel like we’re judged, and we know to some extent we deserve condemnation for things we’ve done and left undone. Of course the accuser of the sisters and brothers is always ready to cast the same on us, and we’re all too ready to take it in. No, John tells us. Let’s go out of our way to love each other, even when feeling this way. In practical, down to earth ways; not just saying it, and stopping there- maybe even feeling good about that, but doing it.

God will meet us as we endeavor to do that. And help us to live in that Spirit of love, where God lives as the God who is love. Our task is simple, yet profound: to believe in the name of God’s Son, Jesus, and to love each other in Jesus, and to love even our enemies as we follow Jesus. In imaginative, helpful ways God helps us see. Over time that can go a long way toward quelling the troubles of our day. As we point ourselves and others to God’s kingdom to come and present now in and through Jesus.

do the best you can, but from God

Make a careful exploration of who you are and the work you have been given, and then sink yourself into that. Don’t be impressed with yourself. Don’t compare yourself with others. Each of you must take responsibility for doing the creative best you can with your own life.

Galatians 6:4-5; MSG

Our days, weeks, and lives are full of things that need to be done. Some can be left undone, but others require our attention and simply have to be done. God gives us the tasks, and however mundane they may seem, we want to do it all to God’s glory, which means we want God to receive all the praise in what’s being done, so that in a sense our work is simply serving others for the praise of God. I think that point is evident from what follows from Paul* in this passage:

Don’t be misled: No one makes a fool of God. What a person plants, he will harvest. The person who plants selfishness, ignoring the needs of others—ignoring God!—harvests a crop of weeds. All he’ll have to show for his life is weeds! But the one who plants in response to God, letting God’s Spirit do the growth work in him, harvests a crop of real life, eternal life.

So let’s not allow ourselves to get fatigued doing good. At the right time we will harvest a good crop if we don’t give up, or quit. Right now, therefore, every time we get the chance, let us work for the benefit of all, starting with the people closest to us in the community of faith.

Galatians 6:7-10; MSG

We need to press on, not in our own strength and wisdom, but in the help received from God by the Spirit. This is ongoing, over time, but something we should be intent on each day. God will help us. We just keep doing it, whatever task is before us. Knowing that amazingly enough we’re involved in the very work of God. Along with others in and through Jesus.

*Here, Eugene Peterson’s rendering of Paul.

the danger and futility of anger

Go ahead and be angry. You do well to be angry—but don’t use your anger as fuel for revenge. And don’t stay angry. Don’t go to bed angry. Don’t give the Devil that kind of foothold in your life.

Ephesians 4:26-27; MSG

Post this at all the intersections, dear friends: Lead with your ears, follow up with your tongue, and let anger straggle along in the rear. God’s righteousness doesn’t grow from human anger. So throw all spoiled virtue and cancerous evil in the garbage. In simple humility, let our gardener, God, landscape you with the Word, making a salvation-garden of your life.

James 1:19-21; MSG

These passages from Paul and James are quite different. They both deal with anger, and both put a lid on it, even if not discounting it entirely. Perhaps Paul gives anger the benefit of the doubt the most, yet warns against it the strongest. But both passages are in sync that while human anger might be good and have its place, it has its limitations and downright dangers for us humans.

God’s anger which we see again and again in Scripture is completely rooted in God’s love. We read the passages and automatically project on God our own anger or the anger of humans. But that’s not at all the way it is. Again, God’s anger is rooted in God’s perfect, pure and unremitting love. And how it works is rather mysterious if not completely lost to us. It appears on face value in some Scripture passages that God does what humans might do. But what God actually does, and how God does it along with the motivation behind it is entirely different. Largely what seems to happen is that God lets humans have their way with the consequences, spiritual forces involved as well, while continuing to hold out the hope and promise of redemption and restoration to all provided in Jesus.

Paul makes the point that anger indeed might even be a good thing in its place. There is so much evil in the world, and if we never have an ounce of anger in us over it, then we should begin to question our morality. Do we care? But then we have to deal with it before God, in prayer and doing what we can do, what might be good for us to do about the issue. If we live in our anger, good as it may be, Paul tells us the devil will get a foothold into our lives. Not good.

James tells us to be slow to get angry, but quick to listen while being slow to say anything. And that human anger does not result in the righteousness God desires. That instead we’re to be marked with humility. That might mean bearing something of the brunt of circumstances that we might otherwise be easily angered over. And it probably includes replacing anger with love for those or the one in the middle of the difficulty.  A love which is based in truth, but bathed with much prayer. We need to recognize what is downright filth or garbage in our lives, and get rid of it. God’s intended outcome for all in every situation is always good. Our focus according to James in this should be what God wants to do in our lives.

In and through Jesus.

to those against us

“Here’s another old saying that deserves a second look: ‘Eye for eye, tooth for tooth.’ Is that going to get us anywhere? Here’s what I propose: ‘Don’t hit back at all.’ If someone strikes you, stand there and take it. If someone drags you into court and sues for the shirt off your back, giftwrap your best coat and make a present of it. And if someone takes unfair advantage of you, use the occasion to practice the servant life. No more tit-for-tat stuff. Live generously.

“You’re familiar with the old written law, ‘Love your friend,’ and its unwritten companion, ‘Hate your enemy.’ I’m challenging that. I’m telling you to love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst. When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the supple moves of prayer, for then you are working out of your true selves, your God-created selves. This is what God does. He gives his best—the sun to warm and the rain to nourish—to everyone, regardless: the good and bad, the nice and nasty. If all you do is love the lovable, do you expect a bonus? Anybody can do that. If you simply say hello to those who greet you, do you expect a medal? Any run-of-the-mill sinner does that.

“In a word, what I’m saying is, Grow up. You’re kingdom subjects. Now live like it. Live out your God-created identity. Live generously and graciously toward others, the way God lives toward you.”

Matthew 5:38-48; MSG

When someone seems against us, what does Jesus tell us to do? Pray. We humbly go on serving in love. But I like what is said first:

When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the supple moves of prayer…

We need that space ourselves. Instead of reacting and responding in kind, we hold back. We pray for them. And in that act of praying God moves in the situation: in us and in them.

And we humbly do good. That’s how real love is expressed according to Scripture.

God will help us as we prayerfully endeavor to step in this direction. From an angry, hard heart, to a softened heart. It might take some time, but we need to pray. And then act accordingly, which a lot of times is not to act much at all, but carry on in our tasks. And help that person in whatever ways we can. In and through Jesus.

the center of God’s work

God raised him from death and set him on a throne in deep heaven, in charge of running the universe, everything from galaxies to governments, no name and no power exempt from his rule. And not just for the time being, but forever. He is in charge of it all, has the final word on everything. At the center of all this, Christ rules the church. The church, you see, is not peripheral to the world; the world is peripheral to the church. The church is Christ’s body, in which he speaks and acts, by which he fills everything with his presence.

Ephesians 1:20b-23; MSG

There’s not many concerned citizens in the United States who aren’t biting their nails right now. If you pay attention to the news, you know some of the many reasons why. And what happens in those places is important. We don’t do well to shrug it off and say for one reason or another that it doesn’t matter.

But we don’t do well, either, if we think or at least act as if that’s all that matters, specifically what people are doing in these civic and political affairs. We may advocate for good, important causes, raise legitimate concerns, and have our feet on the ground, somehow active in the political process. And there might well be some good that comes out of that.

But unless we remember where the center of God’s work actually is, we might become lost in all of that. Lost in not having the proper focus. Of course I’m talking about those of us who are Christ-followers.

I think we would do much more good if we made a concerted effort to focus on just where the center of God’s work is. It’s in Christ no less. And on God’s grace and kingdom present in him, found now, or at least primarily evident in the church. So that whatever we are about and do has both its vision and energy coming from that.

This doesn’t mean for a second that we should disengage in neither paying attention to events, nor failing to do anything. But it does mean that our passion and effort needs to come from the center of God’s activity: Christ himself. As the church, the body of Christ in the world, made up of all believers in local expressions of that, we need to center ourselves in that space and reality to find our place in what God is doing today.

This will help us be concerned about what God is actually concerned about, and less on what so many others, including many Christians, really, any of us might be concerned about. For example, it’s not about the preservation of human constructs, whatever good they might represent or accomplish. Nor for that matter are we about trashing such. Instead our focus is on God’s revelation and will found in Jesus. That brings a vision we gather from Scripture, fulfilled in Jesus, in God’s grace and kingdom come in Jesus. So that no matter what might happen elsewhere, that remains intact in our faith, because in actuality it will. But our participation in that will depend on our focus and response.

This hopefully can help us learn to relax more, fret less, and do what God has called us to do in Christ. Simply be who we are: together, Christ’s body in the world. Under Christ’s rule, who alone is sovereign over all things. Realizing that God can bring about more good through our prayers, love, and good works than we might imagine, or compared to just being even fully engaged in the political process. We want to follow Jesus, the politics of Jesus, and participate in God’s good work in and through him.

waking up Christian love in each other

And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

Hebrews 10:24-25

A little bit can go a long way. We may think what we can do isn’t much. But when it’s done as an expression of love, it can indeed be a lot. People can be moved from near despair to being lifted in needed encouragement, with a feeling and sense of being loved and belonging. Love and good deeds beget love and good deeds, at least having the potential to do so.

We in Christ are all in this together. It’s not each person all out for themselves. We need to watch out for each other, regularly meeting together, keeping track of one another, particularly during hard times. And really just ongoing love expressed is surely underrated and a largely missing element in our church lives nowadays.

Some of us will need more encouragement than others. But we all need it, each and everyone of us. None of us are excluded. And we need to express genuine appreciation for others, for God’s gift in them, and for their gift to us. And in practical, down to earth ways, thoughts and prayers certainly not excluded. In and through Jesus.