no true faith apart from love

notFor in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.

Galatians 5

It’s interesting  and actually downright scary when one sees in scripture the examples of those who are devoted to the word, to scripture, but who actually don’t know God. They’re maybe given to knowing the words of the text, but lack the light, and release of the Spirit. They are trying to do what’s right, but they’re not loving well, or maybe not at all. Examples like that can be found strewn throughout scripture. Jesus’s critique of the Pharisees and scribes, who were the Bible scholars of that day, comes to mind.

Too often I’ve found myself too much in that company, or way of living. Knowing includes knowing the text of scripture, but the point of that is to know God, and others. Relationships come to the fore, of course, the first and greatest commandment, and the second like it: Love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself.

The light comes on when we are about our Father’s business, when we really love others out of our love for God. And that being true in all that we do in our work and life. And with an emphasis on helping the poor, and those in need, which would include the oppressed and helpless. If we want to find God’s heart, then that’s where we’ll find it: in a faith which is given to good works in love.

Hopefully this won’t seem trite, but we could ask ourselves what one good work we can do today, and practice those kinds of things daily. It really doesn’t have to be much, little things matter, and can make a big difference.

What is essential is that our faith is active and worked out in love. An important part of our life in God in this world, and actually in the life to come, in and through Jesus.

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identifying with the poor

In my culture here in the United States, there seems to be a belief that has taken hold of many, that people are poor for a reason, meaning the poor are essentially at fault for being so. I’ve heard it put quite starkly that way, as if there are no outside factors which have contributed to their plight. Let’s face it, everyone makes less than best decisions at time, surely all of us have even done foolishly sometime when it comes to finances. But those who have a steady job and especially with a good income, have a nice margin of error, whereas the poor, who may not get much over minimum wage, do not. Yes, there’s all kinds of considerations to be added, like how some (some would say many) want to live off the government, while they smoke their cigarrettes and sit in front of the television. Yet there are others who have given up because they felt marginalized and simply didn’t have the qualifications needed to overcome.

Yes, there are poor people in the United States who barely have enough to eat, at times not enough. But most are helped in some way by the government or private agencies such as charities. The world’s poor in comparison suffer a much greater plight, since they often don’t have the resources that the poor here do. I think of places in Africa in which there is starvation even of children, often war ravaged areas in which governments can’t stop evil militia groups, oftentimes the governments themselves being corrupt.

People removed perhaps on the other side of the globe are sadly easy to dismiss or forget. But people suffering where we live is another matter. And yet we so easily live in bubbles among those of our economic, political, religious status, seldom breaking out of them enough to even begin to get to know the “others.”

To identify with the poor is essentially the way of Jesus, whose entire life, in fact coming was about identifying with the poverty of the human condition by becoming completely human except that he never sinned.

For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.

2 Corinthians 8

So we must start with our Lord, and it’s good to see it in the context of the above passage just cited (the link goes to 2 Corinthians 8 and 9). Paul was encouraging the Corinthian church to give monetarily, an offering for their poor brothers and sisters in Jesus in Judea. Some in their poverty gave generously for the help of others in spite of their own lack.

In and through Jesus, our hearts are to go out to the poor, and we’re to help them in practical ways in the love of our Lord, those who do not know him, with the good news of the gospel, itself.

We also need to be careful that Money doesn’t replace God in our lives. This is a life changing series, entitled, “God and Money,” which while saying a good number of things we may already know, is revolutionary in challenging us to see all of our resources as not only gifts from God, but also belonging to God, we being stewards of such. That needs to get into our hearts and bones to change our lives.

May the Lord teach us more in this direction, as we endeavor to walk together with him, longing for others to know the true riches we have found in him.

political posts

If someone really knew me in regard to US politics, they would find out I’m a hard one to pin down in any established category, which is why I happen to be a registered Independent voter. I am open to arguments on every side on most any issue. Often I don’t see things in such stark terms as right and wrong, although I will push back hard against American ideals, which while good in their place, out of place can be opposed to God’s kingdom ideals, perhaps the prime example, individual liberty canceling out loving one’s neighbor as one’s self. That’s not to say that these American privileges aren’t important, and to be treasured and preserved, such as freedom to worship (or not) as one chooses, but only to say that there might be times when we ought to make sacrifices for the good of others, particularly for the poor and needy among us without opening up a welfare state. Not easy, and hence just one example of the need for good governing. Of course I realize that even that statement ends up being political, and gets pegged somewhere.

On my blog, and really on Facebook, though by appearances at least, I may not do so well there, I try to avoid partisan politics of this world completely. Good people are on every side, and have often thought out well the hot issues such as abortion and the environment. Whether I agree with a politician on an issue, or not, I prefer to stay focused on the issue, rather than take sides with the politicians at all. In the recent presidential election, though I certainly was grading the politicians in my head, there was only one of them I wanted to vote for, and that candidate was not of a party people would probably think I would naturally gravitate to.

All of that to say what I think is most important in this post. To get to my point: I believe we in Jesus need to be known as political in one way only: we are committed to the politics of Jesus. Yes, the gospel is political because it encompasses all of life, not only my personal relationship with God through Christ, but everything else as well. How that works out in community can be played out in one place only, in the church together as the people of God in Jesus by the Spirit. We begin to live out now what will be completely true in the kingdom come, when our Lord, King Jesus returns. With the difference being that now we have to take up our crosses and follow, as well as live with an emphasis on helping the poor.

So we need to both respect differences and hold with an open hand, ready to let go, the politics of this world. If one of the believers serves in public office, they may have to be affiliated with one party or another, but their focus should be on issues, not on partisan politics. How much more so ought that to be the case for us who are witnesses to the one good news of the world, the gospel of our Lord Jesus.

 

a monk at heart

I rejoiced greatly in the Lord that at last you renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you were concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it. I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.

Yet it was good of you to share in my troubles.

Philippians 4

I am not sure to what extent I’m an ascetic, although what that precisely means in practice varies in monastic orders, but in some ways I see myself as a monk at heart. All in Jesus are called to be separate from the world system, since in Jesus we’re not of the world anymore than he is (John 17). How Christians live that out can vary as well. It is not a sin to happen to make a lot of money, and have worldly wealth, and surely a kind of built in monkish, or monastic discipline ought to accompany that.

Unfortunately in too many of our Christian traditions, to live simply on purpose for Christ and the gospel is not a focus, and not taught in our churches, I’m afraid. We don’t necessarily buy into the vision of the American dream, in fact, in many ways we may repudiate it. But we all too often live in the default of what we know, not realizing there may be other options, or ways to live, which may avoid much of the unnecessary overhead imposed on our society. Of course the American economic system is built on people buying more and more things they don’t need.

Paul was a model to the people of his day of one who followed Christ, and we should learn what we can from his example found in scripture to do the same. And a big part of that was contentedness, no matter what his lot. I’m sure when the extra money came in, while he may have not been averse to living it up a little, or enjoying this or that which otherwise he couldn’t have, by and large he used what extra he had to meet needs of others, to help the poor, a big priority for Christianity, prominent in the New Testament (and throughout the Bible, for that matter).

I don’t see my life as a good model for all of this, however I have awakened in later years to understand what it takes to live out what I actually originally set out to do. Yet failed to some extent, due to the influence of the world. Now, while it’s too late to change water that’s gone under the bridge, I can say that I’m more content than ever with simplicity, and the routine the Lord has given me with my wife and family, and with the job I have. As long as I can have a scripture in hand with a cup of coffee, and hopefully do good works and pray, and have my nose in a good book along the way, I’m happy. The extra frills, like a glass of wine, or a nice vacation trip are certainly good as well. We in Jesus learn to receive all of life as a gift from God, including the more difficult times. It is something we are to continue to work at and grow in, and as Paul indicates, true of his own experience, it’s an acquired discipline, one might even say an acquired taste. So that more and more this is the rhythm and pattern in how we live with others in the way of Jesus.

the importance of sound doctrine

What you heard from me, keep as the pattern of sound teaching, with faith and love in Christ Jesus. Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you—guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us.

2 Timothy 1:13-14

Nowadays, it’s not like the need for sound doctrine is scuttled, though I think it often is. It simply is the case that there’s some unsound doctrine as in teaching which is accepted as sound biblical teaching. We have to be on our guard. Especially dangerous is the teaching which comes from churches with an emphasis on a direct knowledge from God, as if they are the purveyors of truth unlike other churches around them. That is a form of gnosticism in the idea that they are the enlightened ones, and the rest of the church is not.

I think the passage quoted above, Paul’s last letter, gets to the heart of the issue. We have to get back to both scripture, and to what the church has taught through the Holy Spirit. Both. We have an unhealthy tendency to appeal to one or the other: either scripture alone, as if it’s in a vaccuum, or the Spirit and experience alone especially as given to certain leaders in the church. When actually we need both together, and discernment from the entire church by the Spirit through the word.

Thankfully within evangelicalism there is an awakening to a new appreciation of the Great Tradition and what the church by the Spirit has taught from scripture through the centuries, especially pertaining to the gospel. The evangelical tradition for all the beating it takes, some of the criticism justified, at least is strong in seeking to promote sound instruction from scripture. They can frankly outdo most of their critics from other church traditions in that regard. But the failure on evangelicalism’s part to make the Lord’s Table the climax and center of a service, is a telling one, inherited from the emphasis which occurred at the Protestant Reformation.

Deb and I left the infant Anglican church plant to take our granddaughter to a church which has programs for kids. I think we’ve found a suitable church now, which is solid in what they believe and teach, even if they don’t agree fully on what the Spirit has given the church through the centuries to believe and practice. I miss the liturgical, the confession of sin, recitation of the Nicene Creed, the broken body and blood of the Lord in the bread and cup. But we do appreciate what is present: a strong emphasis of teaching the word, and hopefully along with that the gospel which is at the heart of the word. That is what we hope for at this present time for our granddaughter.

And I might add, I  believe the church should be engaged in good works to help the poor to get on their feet and to become established through the gospel. Without question this should be an emphasis of every church. Teaching is not enough; practice must follow. Too often Christians depend on the state to do what the state cannot possibly do in the same way the church can and should do. Of course the state should fulfill its responsibility; any good society should look after its own, with safety nets for the poor in helping the poor toward a self-sustaining existence. But only the church through the gospel can help both the rich and the poor and everyone to find the life that is truly life, the eternal life that is in God through Christ.

Sound doctrine matters, and I do appreciate the emphasis of the best of the evangelical tradition in teaching and promoting that, insofar as they understand that. They need to keep working on the other part, to which they are awakening. And never forget to work at helping the poor and needy and oppressed and disabled in and through the name of Jesus. So that they in turn can help others in and through Jesus. Amen.

the error of chasing or living according to the American dream (part one of two)

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

“The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are unhealthy,your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!

“No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.

Matthew 6:19-24

When I look back on my life, one of the things I wish I could change is how I handled money. This post requires two parts, but in this part, I will focus on the love of money. Note that it’s not money itself, but the love of money that is called a root of all kinds of evil (1 Timothy 6:10). Handling money well as in not going into debt unncessarily and foolishly, and saving for retirement, as well as for helping children through college, this is all well and good, to be commended. Of course not everyone can afford much more than the basic necessities of life, which for most Americans includes things which seem marginally necessary like the Internet, and some things not necessary at all.

We too often live by default. I wanted early on to live not caring about money at all. I did want to invest some for the future, but we didn’t have 401-K in those days or any plan as simple and straightforward, or as good as that (short of Social Security itself). I was in rebellion against the idol of money. Jesus’ words quoted above refers to money as a master, and church fathers personified it. Paul said that greed amounts to idolatry (Colossians 3:5). And yet to some extent I’m afraid I succumbed to that idol by not thinking beyond the parameters set within the American system. This is tricky, because it’s not like we either can or should remove ourselves from the world. Some people of faith disagree with that and do at least largely live removed from the rest of society, such as the Amish. But the way of Jesus seems to be to live as a witness within society, certainly in a distinct and what will amount to a peculiar way in contrast to the world’s way around us.

And yet it’s easy to fall into the trap of living according to the world’s norms and therefore falling into the world’s trap, instead of really living by Jesus’ kingdom standard, catching that dream and by faith committing oneself and remaining true to that. Even if we do that, it doesn’t mean that we wouldn’t seek to build up credit and do all the same basic things others would do. It does mean that we will think, pray and live according to Jesus’ teaching no less, which includes generous giving of our wealth, particularly to those in need, and a refusal to live well beyond what we really need, not to mention well beyond our means. According to the NIV footnotes from the above passage “healthy” in the passage implies generosity, while “unhealthy” implies stinginess, both referring to one’s handling of money.

What is needed is to catch the vision Jesus casts of God’s kingdom come in him, and what that means for us who live in it. Again, that doesn’t mean we don’t live in the world, but we certainly do so as those not of the world. Our faith and witness is unavoidably and inevitably linked to our use of money. What is of fundamental importance in this post is that money would not become our master, but only God. Jesus said there’s nothing in between, it’s either one or the other for us. Even though I saw God as my one and only Master, I’m afraid that in practical terms I failed to see and catch Jesus’s kingdom vision, as well as the teaching of scripture on this. I did not care at all about getting rich, or so I think anyhow, but I did live not entirely, but largely according to the standards and limitations within the American system. Which made it hard to do what we have done over the years in deference to God’s kingdom in Jesus. But more on that in the last post of this two part series.

 

Lent and helping the poor

Along with the temptation of our Lord narrative, which in our tradition is the gospel reading climaxing the other readings, Father Michael highlighted the reading least likely to be talked much about, the Deuteronomy passage about the firstfruits and tithes Israel was to give to God, once they entered into the land promised to them (the readings: Deuteronomy 26:1-11; Romans 10:8b-13;Luke 4:1-13; Psalm 91:1-2, 9-16).

In the Deuteronomy passage, the people of Israel are to give their tithe to the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow. They too were foreigners in the land of Egypt, taken care of by God through the Egyptians at that time, and they are to do the same with the foreigners residing among them. Of course the command to help the fatherless and the widow is echoed elsewhere in the Pentateuch and throughout scripture, a call to God’s people. Part of the tradition of Lent is not only to fast, but to give to the poor, a call to God’s people in Jesus, a call to the church. Father Michael suggested such a priority can inform our politics, as we look for candidates who advocate helping the poor. I agree. Just how government is to play a role in that is not an easy question. But addressing systemic injustice is one good place to start. The goal should be to help the poor to live in a self-sustainable way. Handouts will be needed here and there. The politics of how to do this differ, of course.

But the one thing we’re to major on is our own role in helping the poor. We are interested not just in helping them to come to King Jesus to be saved from their sins and be secured a place in Heaven, but the salvation in place for this life is a salvation which is concerned about the whole person, and not just individuals, but communities. It’s a tall order indeed, but one that King Jesus takes on, part of the salvation of the good news of God’s grace and kingdom in him which begins now, to be seen and witnessed to in the church in anticipation of the Day when complete justice is set in place for all the world in and through King Jesus.

When you have entered the land the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance and have taken possession of it and settled in it, take some of the firstfruits of all that you produce from the soil of the land the Lord your God is giving you and put them in a basket. Then go to the place the Lord your God will choose as a dwelling for his Name and say to the priest in office at the time, “I declare today to the Lord your God that I have come to the land the Lord swore to our ancestors to give us.” The priest shall take the basket from your hands and set it down in front of the altar of the Lord your God. Then you shall declare before the Lord your God: “My father was a wanderingAramean, and he went down into Egypt with a few people and lived there and became a great nation, powerful and numerous.But the Egyptians mistreated us and made us suffer,subjecting us to harsh labor. Then we cried out to the Lord, the God of our ancestors, and the Lord heard our voice and sawour misery, toil and oppression. So the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with great terror and with signs and wonders. He brought us to this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey; and now I bring the firstfruits of the soil that you, Lord, have given me.” Place the basket before the Lord your God and bow down before him. Then you and the Levites and the foreigners residing among you shall rejoice in all the good things the Lordyour God has given to you and your household.

When you have finished setting aside a tenth of all your produce in the third year, the year of the tithe, you shall give it to the Levite, the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow, so that they may eat in your towns and be satisfied. Then say to the Lord your God: “I have removed from my house the sacred portion and have given it to the Levite, the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow, according to all you commanded. I have not turned aside from your commands nor have I forgotten any of them. I have not eaten any of the sacred portion while I was in mourning, nor have I removed any of it while I was unclean, nor have I offered any of it to the dead. I have obeyed the Lord my God; I have done everything you commanded me. Look down from heaven, your holy dwelling place, and bless your people Israel and the land you have given us as you promised on oath to our ancestors, a land flowing with milk and honey.”

Deuteronomy 26:1-15