James’s ending note: community life

Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise. Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.

Elijah was a human being, even as we are. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops.

My brothers and sisters, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring that person back, remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of their way will save them from death and cover over a multitude of sins.

James 5

James certainly talks about relationships in the community of faith in his letter. But community life is saved for last, perhaps because that’s where James’s heart is as a pastor.

It’s not like the community of believers are to take the place of God. As James notes, anyone in trouble should pray and those who are happy should sing songs of praise to God. All of this is dependent on God. There’s a dependence on God and from that, an interdependence on each other. God made us for him, and for each other. We can help each other as we receive help from God, or with the help we receive from God.

When someone in the community is sick, they’re to call on the leaders of the church to pray over them, anointing them with olive oil as a symbol of healing. And the leaders are to pray over them, and the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well, and their sins will be forgiven. This implies any needed confession of sin by the one sick. But includes those not aware of any such need for confession, except for acknowledgment of the everyday sins and weaknesses we all carry, which might be affecting us more than we realize. I think of James’s warning against judging each other, and how the Lord judges such. And all his words against loose, careless speech, particularly as described in James 3, straight from the pit of hell. The healing in the context seems to be more or less connected with confession of sin, though not necessarily so.

And then there’s the word of encouragement concerning our prayers, probably especially encouraging the elders who pray, but also anyone else in the community of faith. Elijah is seen as extraordinary, including his prayers and God’s answers, but as James notes, he was just an ordinary human being with the same passions and struggles as the rest of us. If God answered his prayers, God will answer ours. Being righteous in James is more the character of righteousness we receive and mature in, than the standing which especially Paul talks about along with its character. We are always in need of God’s forgiving, cleansing grace, but we are not to excuse ourselves and our sins, and then expect to be heard by God in prayer. But when we are confessing, and doing our best to be obedient people, growing in grace, then our prayers will matter much.

And then the closing word on rescuing the one who is wandering from the truth in the error of their own way. Nothing less than saving their souls from death is at stake here. The community is not to let them go, but to try to bring them back in. And what’s implied here is that we as individuals our involved. One of us from within the community can make the difference as we step in and reach out to help the sinner in need repent. This takes much grace, but we are called to this for each other.

Deb and I are part of an evangelical mega church in which is emphasized the row (weekend worship service), the circle (small group), and the chair (personal devotions). We plugged into a small group early on, and it’s been as great a blessing as all the rest. People can receive some of what James refers to in the weekend gathering, and especially so in smaller churches. But a small group of say eight to twelve people, committed to each other in love and prayer, can make the needed world of difference.

What James calls us to at the close of his letter. What we need, and what the world needs to see from us together. In and through Jesus.

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what the United States needs from us in Jesus, from the church

This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.”

Jeremiah 29

God was at work through the mess of that time, judging his people, and sending them into exile into Babylon. And like all the empires of that time, Babylon was given to idols. And it was not the poster boy of virtue. Perhaps not as much a terror as the Assyrian empire which had preceded it, but still a terror to those who would not surrender and bow down to its sovereignty. Actually, when thinking about Babylon and the Babylonian exile of the Jews, one can turn to Daniel, the first five chapters, to see something of what it was like.

The nation where I live, and am a citizen of is a far cry from Babylon. The United States of America has become the world power. It doesn’t impose its will on the rest of the world like Babylon did. Yet it has been the major player in many places, usually linked to its own national interests, but not without some great sacrifice for the good of others, such as in World War II. I’m thinking especially of the Normandy invasion. The United States has had its sins from the beginning and throughout, just like any other nation. And it has done great good as well.

What I want to focus on to some degree might be applied by Christians of any nation, except for nations which practically outlaw the faith. But even in those cases, Christians can hope and pray for change, such as what may be and to some extent has occurred in China. It’s the idea that we’re to pray for the city, and by extension I would say the state/nation in which we reside, because their good will be our good.

“….seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.”

The church and we as Christians are to be a witness to the gospel, the good news in Jesus, come what may. That’s our calling. At the same time, we can hope and pray for the good of the nation in which we reside, and advocate that, provided we don’t get swallowed up in an agenda contrary to the gospel. Not an easy track or task for sure.

Right now in the United States we’ve reached a danger point, I believe, with a growing rift politically, which at the extremes is becoming more and more hostile. There seems to be no middle ground in which people who differ can stand and attempt to reason, and work through differences, to arrive to at least some conclusion, which in the nature of the case would ordinarily always be ongoing. I think this was what the Founding Fathers of the United States wanted as the ideal. Not that the U.S. has always lived up to that well.

The church needs to stand in that gap, regardless of where we are politically as individuals. This especially needs to be church led, and Christians should be part of it, of course. It is the salvation through the gospel, and the healing that comes with it that is needed today. What I said on Facebook yesterday:

What the church in large part needs to be here and now is a healing presence through the gospel. Salvation where needed, and the healing that comes with it, in and through Jesus. Across the political divides, and every other divide. What I want to major on and be part of.

We must confess where we’ve been part of the problem. And there is a time to speak up, don’t get me wrong. But how we do it makes all the difference in the world. If we demonize our opponents, and make it a good versus evil contest, then we fail to recognize and acknowledge our own part we’ve played in the breakdown, both in what we’ve done and left undone.

The gospel in and through Jesus is cross-centered, and we’re all included in the sin that Jesus took on himself there. We’re no better than anyone else; we’re all in need of God’s grace. Before there can be better solutions to problems, which are more God-honoring, there has to be a change in our hearts. And it must begin with us. We are the ones that must lead the way.

For it is time for judgment to begin with God’s household; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God? And,

“If it is hard for the righteous to be saved,
    what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?”

1 Peter 4:17-18

We must do so in the utmost humility, removing the plank from our own eye, before we even dream of trying to remove the speck from someone else’s eye. Not disengaging necessarily, unless what we’re doing is not helpful toward healing the divide, and ultimately, for the good of others through the gospel. How we do that will depend on God’s wisdom given to us, unique to each one of us, and worked out in accord and agreement with the church.

We step back, take a deep breath, pray, and then proceed. Together. Hopefully what can become a groundswell that can help bring the salvation and healing on so much that is broken. With no final answers, except the good news and what’s in harmony with that, in and through Jesus.

 

God’s redemption of the broken spaces

We had a most interesting, informative series entitled “Finding Hope in Family Conflict,” specifically on the story of Jacob and Joseph from Genesis. Anyone would do well to watch/listen to them all. A great ending, so although best to watch/listen to each, if you want to get something of it as a whole and just sample one, “Week 7/Family Reunion” might be my suggestion.

What came home to me in the last one, is how Joseph chose not to react in his hurt with hate and additional hurt inflicted on others, but instead trusted in God, and put himself in a place where God could heal him, so that instead of hurting, he could be God’s healing presence to others.

In Joseph’s case, though he certainly had some blame, as we all do in any close relationship, he was really the victim of wrongdoing by his brothers. In our case, it could be either that we were victims, or that we were primarily to blame. And many of us have both. The question for us all: Do we believe that over time God can redeem that suffering for our good, and for the good of others? Even if we were the one to blame, we can at least pray, submit, and trust in God, that God can do a redemptive work in it. God does, and God did, as we see in this story in Genesis. All of that in and through Jesus.

 

the beauty and brokenness of life

We see everywhere both the wonder and brokenness of life. There is something wonderful about our world, even about us. And yet there’s something broken as well, that needs fixed. Beauty and brokenness all around us, yes, even in our midst, and within us.

We can get so used to it, that we live in it without much complaint, but bearing its weight. This reminds me of Jesus’s healing of a woman:

On a Sabbath Jesus was teaching in one of the synagogues, and a woman was there who had been crippled by a spirit for eighteen years. She was bent over and could not straighten up at all. When Jesus saw her, he called her forward and said to her, “Woman, you are set free from your infirmity.” Then he put his hands on her, and immediately she straightened up and praised God.

Indignant because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, the synagogue leader said to the people, “There are six days for work. So come and be healed on those days, not on the Sabbath.”

The Lord answered him, “You hypocrites! Doesn’t each of you on the Sabbath untie your ox or donkey from the stall and lead it out to give it water? Then should not this woman, a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has kept bound for eighteen long years, be set free on the Sabbath day from what bound her?”

When he said this, all his opponents were humiliated, but the people were delighted with all the wonderful things he was doing.

Luke 13:10-17

And it also reminds me of the prayer the Lord taught us to pray, this part:

Our Father in heaven…
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
    on earth as it is in heaven.

Matthew 6:9-10

So we live in a beautiful, yet broken world. And the promise in Jesus is both for the present and the future: this present existence, and the life to come. So that we want to pray and work against the brokenness present now, especially the worst of it. I think of slave trade, ongoing injustice against African Americans and against other people in other places, abortion, etc., etc. There are hands on practical ways in which we can help. And of course the ultimate answer is in Jesus, and God’s good news in him.

May God help us see where this healing can take take place now and what place we can have in that, and may we hold on to the hope of the ultimate healing to come, when heaven and earth become one at Jesus’s return, in and through Jesus.

“Not only are we saved by grace, but we are healed by grace.” —Caralyn of Beauty Beyond Bones

“It is comforting to know that God knows all and that He knows what is going to happen and that He will take us in His hands and carry us through life if we ask Him to. That’s grace. That’s the gift He gives. That’s the healing water.

“I know that His grace heals. I know this to be true. I know that His grace restores. Rebuilds. Uplifts. Encourages. Sustains. Comforts. Empowers. Rescues. It is the only way I have gotten through recovery, and gotten to where I am today. And I know this because I know myself. I know my weaknesses and struggles and just humanness. And I know that the only way I’ve been ten years strong in my recovery is because God has been giving me the grace to do so.

“Grace is one of those ‘churchy’ words that I’ve never really known how to define or what it really means, aside from the classic hymn standby, ‘Amazing Grace.’ But here goes my best attempt: Grace is God’s no-strings-attached help and strength that is freely given to us because we are too royally screwed up to get through this life on our own. Maybe? Or maybe this one: God’s free assistance so we don’t come to a complete and utter demise? Let’s just say, I’m working on my definition. But what I do know, is that His grace is the source of my recovery. And it will be the source of yours too.

“How did your heart feel reading those things that grace does? That it restores, sustains, empowers, etc. Do you want those things in your life? How would His grace impact your recovery? Does it scare you? What would happen if you just felt it wash over you? I dare you.”

Bloom, by Caralyn of Beauty Beyond Bones blog

Beauty Beyond Bones

the basic healing which awaits the final one

To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.

“He committed no sin,
    and no deceit was found in his mouth.”

When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. “He himself bore our sins” in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; “by his wounds you have been healed.” For “you were like sheep going astray,” but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.

1 Peter 2:21-25

The healing that has taken place here is evident through the return of the one healed to God. It is through the cross, Jesus’s own wounding there, that we have been healed. And the healing refers, one might say, to the soul, to one’s very life, probably not so much a physical healing as a spiritual one.

We still all feel hurts, or wounds still present from our past. Or even if we are not aware of such, they can affect us, and change how we live, usually for ill rather than for good. The major healing for us is through Jesus and his death. And our return to him, the Shepherd and Overseer of our souls. I like that thought; I know I need it.

We focus on Jesus’s saving work for us, what he suffered, which sets us free from our suffering as sinners. And our return to God through him. The healing that is past is the balm of salvation resulting in forgiveness of sins and new life. And especially in this context, a return to God, to the Lord Jesus, who takes care of us as his sheep. So that we now relate to him as our Shepherd, the one who oversees us in watching over us and providing for our needs. As we await the final healing of ourselves and everything else through God’s redeeming and sanctifying work of love in Jesus our Lord.

“…by his wounds we are healed.”

But he was pierced for our transgressions,
    he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
    and by his wounds we are healed.

Isaiah 53:5

Paradox fills scripture and is part and parcel to the gospel, because humans are taken into Christ, into his death and resurrection through baptism, so that through Christ’s death, we might live in resurrection life, even in this life. The tension and beauty of all of this is so profound, and marvelous in itself, like enjoying a magnificent work of art. But what makes it even more profound is that it can touch and transform us, our lives, so that somehow by God’s grace, in Jesus we enter into something of that beauty ourselves.

Jesus took upon himself all of the brutality humanity could heap upon him, all part of the will of the Trinity, certainly in obedience to the Father, but his own choice as well, and done so by the Spirit. It was done in his sacrifice of himself on the cross, so that by his wounds, our woundedness is healed.

We are wounded by our own sins, and by the sins of others; we are wounded by each other. And such wounds can be ongoing, since none of us are above falling into the sin of a wrong attitude toward another, even toward each other, and the hurtful, destructive words which can follow, and especially for some (and I think the most, of those in their formative years), sink in and change them for ill.

One of the most poignant passages and thoughts in scripture for me is how Jesus as our High Priest has entered fully into our experience, with the exception of not yielding to the temptations to sin, so that he can completely empathize with us, and not only that, but he also can give us just the exact help we need (Hebrews 2:5-18; Hebrews 4:14-5:10).

Somehow Christ himself, who we see as the second Person of the Trinity, was changed in a way, in becoming human and suffering as he did, a change through which he can help us in a unique way, as one alongside us in the gift from the Father of the Spirit.

And in turn, with the help we receive from him, even the healing of our woundedness because of sin, we in turn in and through Jesus can become “wounded healers”. By the Spirit we can enter into something of the brokenness of others, and provide for them something of the Lord’s healing. Even as we continue to receive the same healing for ourselves in and through the wounds of our Lord.