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.

looking for opportunities

…whenever we have an opportunity, let us work for the good of all and especially for those of the family of faith.

Galatians 6:10

Too often we’re caught between a rock and a hard place, not only not looking for opportunities to help others, but caught up in our own problems and situations. That’s understandable, but we have to avoid the treadmill in which we’re tending only to ourselves. While life can often seem not much more than a struggle to survive, God wants something more for and then from us.

We’re to develop an eager eagle eye to see just how we might help someone else. Yes, beginning in our own families to be sure. But not stopping there, out from that to extended family, the family of faith, and all of our neighbors, whoever they may be. Through prayer and good works. Helping others and accepting help as well.

putting on the whole armor of God: the helmet of salvation

Take the helmet of salvation

Ephesians 6:17a

We wait for justice, but there is none;
for salvation, but it is far from us.
For our transgressions before you are many,
and our sins testify against us.
Our transgressions indeed are with us,
and we know our iniquities:
transgressing and denying the LORD
and turning away from following our God,
talking oppression and revolt,
conceiving lying words and uttering them from the heart.
Justice is turned back,
and deliverance stands at a distance,
for truth stumbles in the public square,
and uprightness cannot enter.
Truth is lacking,
and whoever turns from evil is despoiled.

The LORD saw it, and it displeased him
that there was no justice.
He saw that there was no one
and was appalled that there was no one to intervene,
so his own arm brought him victory,
and his righteousness upheld him.
He put on righteousness like a breastplate
and a helmet of salvation on his head…

Isaiah 59:11b-17a

But since we belong to the day, let us be sober and put on the breastplate of faith and love and for a helmet the hope of salvation.

1 Thessalonians 5:8

The helmet of salvation in what’s considered the classic spiritual warfare passage in Ephesians 6 is usually considered something like the assurance of the believer’s salvation, at least the “hope” of it, as we see in 1 Thessalonians 5. It is part of the armor of God. And mostly the idea for at least many in the annals of Christianity that we’re told to put it on, but supposedly for many the thought of what lies after death being entirely in God’s hands, and that no one can presume to know. Maybe something we can take out of that is that we’re not to be so caught up in this so that it becomes our main concern while this “helmet” is still vital for us to wear. As we have an active faith in God, so we believe that God will take care of our salvation. That this is personal, yes for the church, but also for each individual of the church is certainly the case. Yes, important. But it surely doesn’t stop there.

The prophet Isaiah point to the sins of God’s people being the reason that there was no justice in their midst, for themselves and especially for others. When you read Isaiah and the rest of the prophets you find that among God’s prime concerns are justice especially for the poor and for aliens, widows and orphans. And when Israel was sinning, such justice was lacking. Interestingly it’s God who puts on the helmet of salvation and other armor to bring correction and justice. Couldn’t that possibly suggest something as to the meaning of the helmet of salvation in Ephesians 6:10-20 beyond just our own personal salvation? I think so.

We’re to work on our salvation together (Philippians 2:12-13) so that hopefully no one will be left behind (Hebrews 12:15). We as the church are in this together. But salvation doesn’t stop there.

We also hope for the salvation of the world (John 3:16-17). Yes, in terms that all would have faith. And also bringing God’s deliverance and healing to all. And through that breaking down systems of evil. Light exposing darkness and bringing with that God’s judgment and salvation, yes bringing true justice along with mercy. The power of the gospel.

So the helmet of salvation we’re to put on surely includes all that salvation means, yes even in the present as we wait for the final salvation to come with righteousness, justice and peace in the new heavens and earth when Christ returns (2 Peter 3:13).

opportunities to do good

…whenever we have an opportunity, let us work for the good of all and especially for those of the family of faith.

Galatians 6:10

Opportunities come and go. Doing good or working for the good of all, and especially for those of the family of faith should be a prime consideration in how we direct our lives. There is plenty of need and plenty of opportunities. And yet there’s often only a limited window to fulfill it.

When the opportunity is present we need to be in prayer and ready to help. I think it’s not only good to pray about everything, but to be in an attitude and in the practice of prayer all the time. But sometimes I wonder why we think we have to pray about certain things. Jesus already tells us that if someone asks for something, we’re to give it to them (Matthew 5:42).

That said it can be a step of faith, giving up something that has value to us, is even helpful to us, but giving that to someone who is often in much greater need than ourselves, who actually does need it, whereas we can get by without it.

As Paul puts it, it’s a part of our sowing to the Spirit, and hopefully helping others experience something of the same blessing we’re receiving in doing so. In and through Jesus.

against miserliness

Riches are inappropriate for the small-minded,
and of what use is wealth to misers?
What they deny themselves they collect for others,
and others will live in luxury on their goods.
If they are mean to themselves, to whom will they be generous?
They will not enjoy their own riches.
No one is worse than those who are grudging to themselves;
this is the repayment for their meanness.
If ever they do good, it is by mistake,
and in the end they reveal their meanness.
Misers are evil people;
they turn away and disregard people.
The eyes of the greedy are not satisfied with their share;
greedy injustice withers the soul.
Misers begrudge bread,
and it is lacking at their tables.

My child, treat yourself well, according to your means,
and present worthy offerings to the Lord.
Remember that death does not tarry,
and the decree of Hades has not been shown to you.
Do good to friends before you die,
and reach out and give to them as much as you can.
Do not deprive yourself of a day’s enjoyment;
do not let your share of desired good pass by you.
Will you not leave the fruit of your labors to another,
and what you acquired by toil to be divided by lot?
Give and take and indulge yourself,
because in Hades one cannot look for luxury.
All living beings become old like a garment,
for the decree from of old is, “You must die!”
Like abundant leaves on a spreading tree
that sheds some and puts forth others,
so are the generations of flesh and blood:
one dies, and another is born.
Every work decays and ceases to exist,
and the one who made it will pass away with it.

Sirach 14:3-19

A miser…is a person who is reluctant to spend, sometimes to the point of forgoing even basic comforts and some necessities, in order to hoard money or other possessions.


Sirach gives some refreshing wisdom to those who have any measure of wealth. This passage speaks powerfully against hoarding. The idea is that of piling up more and more money, or at least holding tightly to the money, wealth and possessions one has. Instead we’re told in the wisdom here that we need to first of all accept what we have as gifts from God. So that we’re willing to be generous in some measure to ourselves, enjoying each day in responsible ways. And then with the thought that hopefully we will then be more than willing to be generous to others.

We’re to love our neighbors as ourselves, and in the way of Christ, to put others ahead of ourselves. But we use (or steward) what money and wealth we’re blessed with, accepting the reality that God has richly given us all things to enjoy. Generously looking after the needs of those we’re responsible to help, as well as ones God may put on our path. With prayer and wisdom, to be sure.

To give generously and systematically is surely good. To begin to see the possibilities of how we might bless others with a heart especially for those in need, beginning with our families, then our sisters and brothers in the community of faith, as well as all who are in need.

This word of wisdom from Sirach can set us free to help others with something of the blessing God has given us.

above all: love

Above all, maintain constant love for one another, for love covers a multitude of sins.

1 Peter 4:8

Scripture, indeed Jesus tells us that there’s a good number of things we need to do, and not do. But both Scripture and Jesus in Scripture also tells us that love is to be paramount in it all. Love, love, and love some more.

This doesn’t mean we won’t have to take hard stands, and certainly doesn’t mean we’re called to make everyone happy. Love will do the difficult things, while hopefully being a kind of cushion for those who will be offended, if only they’re open to the truth inspired by such love.

Peter tells us to do this within the fellowship of believers, just as Jesus told his disciples to love one another, even as he had loved them, and that by such love the world would know that they are Jesus’s followers. We may not be very good at it. I don’t consider myself good at it. But we’re called to do it, just the same. We keep doing it, be it imperfect as it will be.

We’re to maintain such love as a constant. And that means we’ll have to look over quite a few things. Which of course includes people looking over things in ourselves as well. We should want to be held accountable, but it’s within a fellowship in which love is the measure, indeed the air we breathe. So we’ll be willing to look past many things we don’t like, and will pray about anything we might see as possibly more serious.

Love, love and more love. A love that never ends. That is what characterizes Christ, and what is to characterize the body of Christ, the church in this life. A love for all, and a family love for each other. In and through Jesus.

avoiding “oil and water” problem in our lives

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

We in Jesus are not present just to take care of ourselves, or our families, or each other. That’s where we have to start, and that should be a given, and if we don’t do that, what else we do is at least not nearly as good, if good at all. But there’s no question that while we’re to have an activist faith in caring for ourselves, our family, each other, as well as others in the world, particularly the poor, the marginalized and the oppressed, we have to make sure that our faith is intact.

Oil and water do not mix. Yet with “small droplets” of oil into water, it can. There’s absolutely no question that the directions for faith that we read of in Scripture do not ordinarily mix with our lives, in other words are not easily lived out. It’s like the head/mind and heart comparison. We might have something in our heads, but it’s completely another thing to have it in our hearts and worked out into our lives.

God wants the oil and water with reference to God’s word and our lives to mix. The directives from Scripture, and through that, God’s word to us in Christ is to more and more become a part of who we are, of our lives, worked out into the fabric of our being, so that our thoughts, attitudes, words and actions are all affected. So that we’re in an ongoing change growing deeper together into the likeness of Jesus. In and through him.

tend to where it hurts

Are any among you suffering? They should pray. Are any cheerful? They should sing songs of praise. Are any among you sick? They should call for the elders of the church and have them pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord. The prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise them up, and anyone who has committed sins will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective.

James 5:13-16

I’ve been struggling with a painful foot recently, the first time ever for me, and since I’m on my feet all day on my job, it’s a pain and a trial. Finally, when it was starting to become more than I was willing to bear, I had my wife pick me up a heel support. That did help much and hopefully will give my foot more of a chance to heal.

That analogy we can carry over to our lives in any way we can think of, and not only to ourselves of course, but also to others who for one reason or another are hurting, in difficulty, or at some stage in their lives in which they can use our help even if it’s nothing except prayer and friendship on our part.

Pain is a blessing, just as Philip Yancey with Paul Brand pointed out in books in times past. Without those nerve endings to tell us that something is wrong, we would proceed normally and often wreak havoc to some physical member. When we’re suffering or feeling up against it, that can help us find the help that we need. In God and through the help of others. We need each other in this, and we need God in everything. God is present to give us all the help we need for ourselves and through us to each other. In and through Jesus.

against living in a (the holy) bubble

I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral persons, not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since you would then need to go out of the world. But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother or sister who is sexually immoral or greedy or an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler. Do not even eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging those outside? Are you not judges of those who are inside? God will judge those outside. “Drive out the wicked person from among you.”

1 Corinthians 5:9-13

Do not be mismatched with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and lawlessness have in common? Or what partnership is there between light and darkness? What agreement does Christ have with Beliar? Or what does a believer share with an unbeliever? What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God, as God said,

“I will live in them and walk among them,
and I will be their God,
and they shall be my people.
Therefore come out from them,
and be separate from them, says the Lord,
and touch nothing unclean;
then I will welcome you,
and I will be your father,
and you shall be my sons and daughters,
says the Lord Almighty.”

Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of flesh and of spirit, making holiness perfect in the fear of God.

2 Corinthians 6:14-7:1

Although I rarely watch films, I remember favorites of the relatively few that I’ve watched, and one of them is The Truman Show. In that a man grows up within a bubble, but at a certain point the imaginary world built around him seems unreal to him and he wants to escape. Something to that effect.

I along with many others have been impacted by a Christian tradition and culture which is isolationist at its core. Except to go out and try to get people saved so that they can enter into the same isolation. This happened in just about any and every way conceivable. Their own education, books, music, entertainment, you name it. Everything was essentially covered.

And when you consider the history of especially the past one hundred fifty years or so along with the above Scripture passages, this is understandable, even if all of it was relatively misguided, which I believe was indeed the case. When you consider Jesus’s lifestyle as given to us in the gospel accounts, one who ate and drank and therefore seemed to be at home with the tax-collectors and sinners to the chagrin of the religious leaders, and along with other things against him, Jesus ended up condemned because of that, then one can begin to wonder.

Yes, Paul quotes the prophets telling us essentially not to touch the unclean thing. Interestingly Jesus’s touch made the unclean thing clean, and we’re told to follow Jesus. So what Paul was getting at I take as essentially different. As followers of Jesus we’re to be distinctive from the world in the way we live, what our passions and priorities are. We are in covenant together as the church to hold each other up in prayer and be accountable, for others to help us in our weakness to continue on in spite of ourselves and our inevitable faults along the way, failures included.

It is nothing less than a catastrophe, the insistence to live isolationist within a bubble when we’re the salt of the earth and the light of the world (Matthew 5:13-16). Yes, we do become unclean when we fail to follow the way of Jesus which is the way of the cross, the way of love for all. We’re held accountable to follow that way, and we try in love to help others to find their way into that way, the way of Jesus, the way who is Jesus. In and through him.

simple living

Of course, there is great gain in godliness combined with contentment, for we brought nothing into the world, so that we can take nothing out of it, but if we have food and clothing, we will be content with these. But those who want to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains.

As for those who in the present age are rich, command them not to be haughty or to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches but rather on God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, generous, and ready to share, thus storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of the life that really is life.

1 Timothy 6:6-10, 17-19; NRSVue

A staple of Anabaptist, Mennonite teaching is simplicity, to live what’s called “the simple life.” Within this tradition, the Amish are at least among the ones that have this practice down the best. When you consider the American context, it’s expensive to live because there’s so much money and space in the mix. And much of the economy depends on people buying what they can’t afford and actually don’t need.

Those who don’t have to worry the rest of their lives about having enough money still can only eat so much food. Yes, they can take in all kinds of expensive entertainment or whatever and eat whatever cuisine they want. But they really can use and enjoy only so much. Oftentimes these folks have way more than they either need or will use. While so much of the rest of the world does not have sufficient food or water.

Simple living involves an enjoyment of the ordinary things, seeing everything as a gift from God. And instead of wanting more and more and never being happy with what one has, learning to gratefully receive anything and everything that is good as a gift from God. And seeing that as enough. As Paul actually put it here, if we have what we need, food and clothes, we should be content with that.

While most of us many not be wealthy according to the American dream, we indeed are compared to the rest of the world. But that doesn’t exactly include everyone in the United States. There are too many who have to work more than one job and even then, can hardly make ends meet. And whose health care coverage is dismal in a nation with the best medical know how and one of if not the worst accessibility to it of all first world nations. Of course, the rich will get all they need and more.

When we have extra, we’re to be generous and help others who don’t have enough or are struggling or could use some help.

Our lives are supposed to be lived in simplicity because the essence of life for us is relationship with God through Christ and relationships with each other. As well as receiving every good thing as a gift from God and enjoying as well as seeking to be good stewards of all such gifts.

We’re to seek to do this together. In and through Jesus.