should we want to be liked by everyone?

Am I now seeking human approval or God’s approval? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still pleasing people, I would not be a servant of Christ.

Galatians 1:10; NRSVue

Paul’s words here are linked to his God-given authority as an apostle, the apostle to the gentiles, and the messenger of the gospel given to him. But what he is saying I take as connected to us since he tells us elsewhere to follow him as he follows Christ.

To dig deeper will bring up complexity, but on the face of it, the obvious answer to the question is no. We should not want to be liked by everyone. I’m not sure that all of us are to become all things to all people that we might win some which is what Paul said about himself. But in a secondary sense, yes, we do make ourselves a slave to all to win as many as possible in how we conduct ourselves in love to others in the world, including our enemies.

Jesus is Jesus and we have to be careful to thinking that there’s necessary direct application of everything he did for our practice. For example, Jesus evidently could see into people’s hearts in a way we can’t along with other examples. Jesus is God in the flesh, fully human, but even if living only as a human in his earthly existence, Jesus did so in a completely full way toward the Father, unlike us.

That said, I believe Jesus turning over the tables of the money changers in the temple precinct during Holy Week is an example for us to follow of not passive resistance to injustice, but active (helpful podcast with Jason Porterfield). Was Jesus making friends and influencing people when he did that? That was a part of the reason he was crucified. On Tuesday of Holy Week pronouncing woes of warning and sorrow to the Pharisees and not mincing words certainly wasn’t going to make those who already disliked him among the Pharisees change their minds. And possibly added a few more to that list.

We all like to like others and be liked. And someday when God’s love is the atmosphere in which all live and breathe, that will indeed be the case. But now in this darkness it’s inevitable that some will dislike us. Which could result even in death and for some does. Even though some seemingly do that dispassionately in the name of their religion or ideology.

At any rate, we as followers of Christ should work at loving everyone, even if we have to say something along the way which might be hard for them to hear or receive. We want to do everything in love, in love for God and for others. We need to learn to look past other’s faults and affronts against us and see the good, God’s image in them, and seek to love, even like them. That is an ongoing challenge in itself, but part of our calling. But for now, we can cast aside any thought that everyone is going to like us. In fact, given everything in this evil age, we really would not want that to be the case.

God will help us in this, and that together. In and through Jesus.

strongholds

I myself, Paul, appeal to you by the meekness and gentleness of Christ—I who am humble when face to face with you but bold toward you when I am away!— I ask that when I am present I need not show boldness by daring to oppose those who think we are acting according to human standards. Indeed, we live as humans but do not wage war according to human standards, for the weapons of our warfare are not merely human, but they have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every proud obstacle raised up against the knowledge of God, and we take every thought captive to obey Christ.

2 Corinthians 10:1-5; NRSVue

The strongholds here refer to everything that is set up in opposition to the knowledge of God, all that is contrary to God. I think now of systems of evil benefiting some, often a relatively small number of the rich and powerful at the expense of many. Oftentimes such an arrangement is seen as necessary for this or that reason, with arguments like that’s the way things are, and that’s the way life works. Those on the bottom rung can be thankful they have work and an existence, even if it’s dismal. But the dismal aspect is ignored if not denied on the basis that somehow this is all these people deserve or are able to achieve. And that those over them even somehow are being generous. That is so antithetical to the good news of God in Christ which is not only about the individual soul, but about all things, all of life. Unless the entire Bible doesn’t matter. Only through reading it all can we fully understand and appreciate the good news in Christ.

What Paul is directly talking about here is everything set up against the knowledge of God as given in the good news of Christ. This is especially critical to those who do not have faith, who have not yet received it. But Paul is writing here to a church that indeed has received it yet are thinking and acting in ways contrary to it. The good news in Christ is meant to crush all strongholds. And what is especially critical in Paul’s mind which we see time and again in his letters, not the least in this letter is the relationships believers have with each other and how believers relate to the world. It’s meant to be all in love in accordance with the gospel.

When I think of strongholds, I typically think of that which hinders us from the fullness of experience of the gospel, by God’s grace the righteousness and peace and joy that accompanies it. It is noteworthy that just two chapters later in our Bibles, Paul talks about the thorn in the flesh, the tormenting messenger of Satan that Paul pleaded three times for the Lord to remove. But the Lord wanted Paul to live in that. It’s hard to parse this out, because I don’t believe such weaknesses would include bents toward sin which would leave us susceptible. But such experience can help us draw near to God in ways we otherwise would not.

I believe we need to seek to claim and live in God’s promises which are “yes and amen” through the good news of Christ. We need to plead and insist that God answer. Such prayer is probably entirely necessary for us, because we’re so given to being not that serious about whatever it is. So it’s good that we keep praying for ourselves and others and not let up. And even wrestle with God in the process.

It is the gospel, the good news in Jesus which tears down all kinds of strongholds, whether systemic evil in the world, the sin which binds people, or the struggles we experience as believers in the spiritual battle we’re in. Something to think and pray about. God will help us as we persevere. What once was a stronghold can be like Paul says above, destroyed. With the new thoughts Christ gives us as we commit ourselves to full obedience together. In and through Jesus.

trying to see the big picture

Woe to you who desire the day of the LORD!
Why do you want the day of the LORD?
It is darkness, not light,
as if someone fled from a lion
and was met by a bear
or went into the house and rested a hand against the wall
and was bitten by a snake.
Is not the day of the LORD darkness, not light,
and gloom with no brightness in it?

I hate, I despise your festivals,
and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies.
Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings,
I will not accept them,
and the offerings of well-being of your fatted animals
I will not look upon.
Take away from me the noise of your songs;
I will not listen to the melody of your harps.
But let justice roll down like water
and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.

Amos 5:18-24; NRSVue

Trying to see the big picture, things as they really are will require both an openness and sustained effort on our part. Amos is a prophet who certainly saw, something inherent within prophets, earlier called seers, receiving a vision from God. And often that vision had everything to do with the times in which they lived, seeing the current situation in light of God’s revealed will, eventually in light of the kingdom of God which was and is meant to bring flourishing to all of humanity, to all of creation.

Amos’s words, indeed his calling was not an easy one, certainly true of all the Hebrew prophets. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. echoed Amos’s words in the most difficult task he undertook of seeking racial justice, equality, and reconciliation. King’s passion was rooted in the gospel, the good news of Christ, and the vision cast through that, calling America to the best in its tradition, though it’s not certain that the US Constitution advocated for individual liberty for all, but that’s another topic, and well beyond what I could address (interesting article on this). But after decades and decades, not to mention centuries of wrongdoing to the Africans enslaved in America, the United States went through the upheaval it did hitting against the climax of the Civil War. Yet not ending with that as more was in the works given that much was not healed and made right. True to a significant extent right up to the present day, in fact becoming most evident in recent times.

There’s no question that just like during Amos’s time, we are up against what seems to be intractable forces, or to try to make it clearer, it seems like the fallout is here, that we are going through a perfect storm as it were, that the result of our ways (I include myself in that, too) has pressed in on us. That people on both sides have had enough. During Amos’s time the poor and oppressed could do little. During our time there is both the sense in which they think they can do more, but those who give up are often tempted to despair with a few giving into violence. And those whites who feel their lives are needlessly threatened by all of this, a few of them are ready for violence as well.

Both Amos and Dr. Martin Luther King’s call is entirely different. It is about stepping back and trying to see the big picture both in terms of what actually is, and what God would have be. That comes through being in scripture (Hebrew scripture and the New Testament- considering the Apocrypha with that) and prayer. And doing so in community, but all of this with an eye to try to see the current reality. Listening to everyone, especially those who are marginalized or feel that way. The poor, the stranger, and in this time where I live, first of all the people of color beginning with African Americans and the indigenous, and along with them all others: refugees, Muslims, Chinese, etc.

Unless we do this, we’re not actually seeing as either the prophets or Jesus saw. With the goal of acting in the love of God which Jesus brought with the willingness to suffer in love and out of that same love, for others. Knowing that the good news in Jesus is one of reconciliation of all, involving working through everything that means. In and through Jesus.

heads up on white privilege

They served him by himself and them by themselves, and the Egyptians who ate with him by themselves, because the Egyptians could not eat with the Hebrews, for that is an abomination to the Egyptians.

Genesis 43:32; NRSVue

In the United States there’s great controversy practically raging over what is now called “wokeness,” the awareness that the systems have had and continue to have an adverse effect on people of color, particularly African Americans. Though when you study US history, you’ll find that people of different ethnicities have often had a major problem, especially when first coming to the United States, or due to events. But the two major glaring sins of the United States have been the displacement of the indigenous (in my younger years, called “Indians”) and the enslavement of Africans. And what has come from that so that African Americans often find themselves more segregated in the north than they were in the south, and in places that become run down as well as depositories of unhealthy waste. Yes, strides have been made, but there still is discrepancy and disparity, serious overall in actual net worth monetarily. And that is as much the result of the advantages whites have had over many generations, as it is the result of blacks being disadvantaged throughout the same time.

Some will inevitably say that I am now being divisive and also not talking about something positive and helpful. But I would challenge all to keep reading their Bibles from cover to cover and pay close attention to the marked emphasis over and over again on God’s concern for the poor, as well as God’s action, including salvation and deliverance, not to mention judgment against injustice. It is not helpful nor true to scripture to read it all as if it has to do with our personal relationship to God. The gospel covers that and all of life. The light of the good news in Jesus comes into every dark or we might say instead bleak place. And it exposes all that is false, wrong, and contrary to God’s good will.

It is never enough just to read the Bible. Never. We must also pay attention to life itself. What is God saying through our reading of the Bible which actually pertains to the real world out there? And not just our world of course, but the world of others, particularly the poor and the oppressed and certainly add to that the refugee.

Yes, we need to be awakened to all that is wrong. To listen to those who are affected. To pray yes, but also to find out ways that we can help. In this case being willing to acknowledge that we may have been blind, and I personally know that I have, to a white privilege which has excluded or placed burdens and barriers on those of our human family who are black, with other people of color included. Something for us to be awakened to if we’re to take scripture and the gospel seriously. In and through Jesus.

what matters?

And I saw something else under the sun:

In the place of judgment—wickedness was there,
in the place of justice—wickedness was there.

I said to myself,

“God will bring into judgment
both the righteous and the wicked,
for there will be a time for every activity,
a time to judge every deed.”

Ecclesiastes 3:16-17

As it turns out, a lot matters. Thankfully God has everything well in hand. So we can rest assured in that, believing that God will take care of what really matters.

Well that’s good insofar as it goes. But we still have to live with injustice and its fallout. It’s like all we can expect is God to take care of justice someday, but not today.

But when we stop and consider what the Teacher Qoheleth is saying, we see that what is done now matters. There is a standard in place and no one will get away with any evil done now, just as no one will fail to be rewarded for any good done.

As Christ followers we believe that, and base our lives on it, thankful for God’s grace and mercy which both triumph over justice, yet will bring in the needed justice and peace. In and through Jesus.

everyone a sister or brother: “in Christ”

So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.

Galatians 3:26-29

Genesis 11 tells us the story of the Tower of Babel when humankind was scattered all over the earth, no longer having the one common language. This was due to sin, their sin of wanting to make for themselves a name and rule apart from God. Ever since then divisions are endemic and part of the human condition, resulting in wars and looking at others as different so as not to accept them. God then immediately steps in to call a man, Abraham to ultimately undo what humankind’s sin, the one who would be “the father of many nations,” and “heir to the world.”

In Christ the entire human race is being reunited. All barriers are broken down and done away with “in Christ” by his death (Ephesians 2:11-22).

What does this mean for us today? And what does that look like? Racial justice and ultimately reconciliation. Full sisters and brothers in Christ by the one Spirit.

This is to happen through the gospel in the church, but sadly earlier in my lifetime, there were many churches which insisted on segregation. While that may no longer be the case today, we still tend to huddle in our circles and avoid others who are different.

But with white supremacism along with anti-semitism on the rise, the church needs to take more than a vocal stand, though that’s where we need to start. We should be seeking to live out and demonstrate our unity in Christ to the world. The church is to be the witness to the world of what is just and good. Bringing the light of love into the darkness of hate. So that the conscience of others can be shaped by what’s right and wrong.

But this must begin with us. We know this is possible only through the gospel, that by that good news in Jesus, we are made one family forever. Present for each other, and standing together in love against all hatred. In and through Jesus.

 

where we live now

For the director of music. According to sheminith. A psalm of David.

Help, LORD, for no one is faithful anymore;
those who are loyal have vanished from the human race.
Everyone lies to their neighbor;
they flatter with their lips
but harbor deception in their hearts.

May the LORD silence all flattering lips
and every boastful tongue—
those who say,
“By our tongues we will prevail;
our own lips will defend us—who is lord over us?”

“Because the poor are plundered and the needy groan,
I will now arise,” says the LORD.
“I will protect them from those who malign them.”
And the words of the LORD are flawless,
like silver purified in a crucible,
like gold refined seven times.

You, LORD, will keep the needy safe
and will protect us forever from the wicked,
who freely strut about
when what is vile is honored by the human race.

Psalm 12

This is almost a lament, but kind of a mixture between that and petition and praise for God’s answer. It’s the space in which we live. There’s much to lament in the world. Yet we have God’s promise of intervention. We believe in the end that God will make everything right.

Often we don’t see the answer. I think of some of the most difficult places on earth to live with totalitarian regimes. But sadly, even in free nations there’s much that goes on that isn’t just and right.

We need the insight to see through those who may be misleading. And we need to hold on to the one sure confidence and hope we have: that God somehow is at work now, and will eventually right all wrongs in the judgment and salvation to come. Part of the gospel, the good news, in and through Jesus.

we hate all the hate that has been directed against African Americans and is still latent

Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.

Romans 12:9

Last night I heard a documentary on the brutal hate murder of a fourteen year old boy, Emmett Till. Instead of brushing off the past as the past, we need to understand how it impacts the present, but more importantly, we need to own up to our own responsibility in a more or less willful ignorance and at least not a listening ear and heart to  understand the plight of others.

Latent racism is a fact of life. It’s everywhere, period. While there’s hate on all sides, those who perpetrated the problem are the ones that need to take the brunt of responsibility. Victims who react in hate are responsible, too, but must necessarily be held to a different standard. We honor the many victims who have been hurt and are in justifiable anger, but are ready for a good solution short of any violence, except for the righteous plea for justice.

Any association with organizations having any tie whatsoever with racial hate groups is to be judged in the church as sin. So that if a member is part of any such group, they must be confronted and disciplined if need be. Hopefully they will see fit to first of all repent of this sin, and to sever any such tie, but if not, the church should remove their membership, and appeal to them as someone outside the faith.

I live in a northern city with plenty of churches, but those whose feet are on the ground, and not only African Americans make it clear that systemic racism is alive and at least active here. It is considered a significantly racist area.

We as churches would do well to commit ourselves to having African Americans in places of leadership, including the pastorate. To have a good mix of leadership. That is what eventually can help the church be the witness to the power of the gospel in breaking down all divisions. Through the cross, Jesus broke down the wall of separation between Jews and Gentiles, and ultimately between everyone. Every human is God’s child by creation, so that we’re one family that way. Through Christ, we become one in him, reconciled to God and to each other. A love we’re to live out in down to earth ways, and with a sensitivity for the injustices which remain. As we wait together for our Lord’s return, when evil forever will be banished, and we’ll all live together in God’s love, in and through Jesus.

 

longing for a better day

Woe to you who long
for the day of the Lord!
Why do you long for the day of the Lord?
That day will be darkness, not light.
It will be as though a man fled from a lion
only to meet a bear,
as though he entered his house
and rested his hand on the wall
only to have a snake bite him.
Will not the day of the Lord be darkness, not light—
pitch-dark, without a ray of brightness?

“I hate, I despise your religious festivals;
your assemblies are a stench to me.
Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings,
I will not accept them.
Though you bring choice fellowship offerings,
I will have no regard for them.
Away with the noise of your songs!
I will not listen to the music of your harps.
But let justice roll on like a river,
righteousness like a never-failing stream!

“Did you bring me sacrifices and offerings
forty years in the wilderness, people of Israel?
You have lifted up the shrine of your king,
the pedestal of your idols,
the star of your god—
which you made for yourselves.
Therefore I will send you into exile beyond Damascus,”
says the Lord, whose name is God Almighty.

Amos 5:19-27

Today is Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Martin Luther King, Jr., was I believe the greatest civil leader of the last century. He spoke with a moral authority which arose out of his Christian understanding, and with a gift of intellect, resolve and passion unmatched probably during his time, and nearly any time. And like the prophets of old, he called people to a better day, which would involve change, indeed repentance. He didn’t mince words, yet he spoke and acted as a follower of Christ, with no love withheld from enemies, in the midst of many prayers, and surely, struggles and tears. To do what he was doing put his life on the line. It was compelling, and could not be dismissed even by those who desperately wanted to.

The prophet Amos lived during a time of great evil in the land. God’s people Israel were continuing on as if all was okay, but in fact all was not. Rich people were living off the poor. The heart of God’s command to love God, and one’s neighbor as one’s self was not the heart of God’s people. So through Amos, God was calling his people to repentance.

They sell the innocent for silver,
and the needy for a pair of sandals.
They trample on the heads of the poor
as on the dust of the ground
and deny justice to the oppressed.

Amos 2:6b-7a

Here in the United States, racism is not erased. Society is still stacked against people of color, at least in many places. Of course some overcome, but for many, they settle down into what they have to do to make ends meet. Others, disenfranchised, don’t do as well, sometimes into a life of drugs in which violence is more or less an every present danger and threat. The gap between the wealthy and the poor is widening. I don’t see how God’s people who read scripture and take Jesus and the prophets seriously can remain silent in the face of such injustice and lack of love. To write it off as secondary to the tragedy of abortion is simply the refusal to do what God does throughout the pages of scripture. And see Amos on this. God doesn’t let some sins slide. Everyone for everything is held to account, particularly for sins against love for God and for one’s neighbor, including those different such as the stranger and refugee.

It’s up to us as God’s people in Jesus to do what Martin Luther King, Jr. did. To do our part, whatever that might be, in calling especially the church, God’s people along with others to a better day. Of course in the church we should be endeavoring to live this out, but alas, all too often we rest in the status quo. God is patient, but wants us to develop a sensitivity to these things. That we might have something of God’s heart for every situation. And show that heart through prayer and deeds in and through Jesus.

Jesus tells us not to lose hope, but pray

Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up. He said: “In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared what people thought. And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, ‘Grant me justice against my adversary.’

“For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, ‘Even though I don’t fear God or care what people think, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually come and attack me!’”

And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?”

Luke 18:1-8

Jesus was more than a teacher, for sure, but he was a teacher par excellence. A good part of the gospels consist in his teaching. Of course the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7; also the Sermon on the Plain- Luke 6) might be considered the prime example of that, but then you also have his parables, such as that of “the good Samaritan,” and “the prodigal (lost) son(s).” And many others. This is one of his parables that ties faith and hope together, along with prayer.

It is easy on the surface, but it also seems hard to simply pray about things. “What must I do?” is the big question for most of us. Or just as likely, we feel like we can’t do anything at all, and so are completely at a loss since we don’t really have enough faith in God to pray.

Jesus does tie faith and hope together, just as we find elsewhere in the New Testament (1 Corinthians 13:13; 1 Thessalonians 5:8). If we have faith, then we’ll always have hope. To have faith means to pray, even to cry out to God about our trouble, or the trouble of others around us.

Jesus refers here to simple justice, which often in the world, even today (not here in the United States, though it may happen subtly) is denied to Christ-followers. We must bring our own troubles to God, rather than letting ourselves become consumed in them. And be sensitive to the problems of others. And keep doing that day after day until Jesus returns. In and through him.