testing the spirits in the present day

Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. And this is the spirit of the antichrist, of which you have heard that it is coming, and now it is already in the world. Little children, you are from God and have conquered them, for the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world. They are from the world; therefore what they say is from the world, and the world listens to them. We are from God. Whoever knows God listens to us, and whoever is not from God does not listen to us. From this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error.

1 John 4:1-6; NRSVue

There seems to be a whole lot of sifting going on nowadays. And it’s happening everywhere. No entity seems to be immune. Instead of getting into specific details, which I’m not well capable of anyhow, I would like to touch on some generalities which hopefully will be pertinent to the topic at hand.

John tells us that we’re to not believe every spirit, but test them. And the test pertains to Jesus Christ, whether or not he has come in the flesh. There evidently was some denial at that point, that the Word who was with God and was God, that this Word had become flesh, that is, human (John 1). John addresses that head on, and makes it clear that a denial of such amounts to opposition of Christ.

Surely today some of that continues. But I wonder what else is spoken in the name of Christ or as with authority from God which actually stands in opposition to Christ. In order to get there, we’re going to have to have the gospels in hand: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, and we’ll need to study Jesus: his birth, life, teachings, works, death, resurrection, ascension, the pouring out of the Spirit, and only after we study that, then what follows in the rest of the books of the Christian New Testament. And with that in heart and mind, we’ll also need to consider everything else: history, tradition, and noting all of this in the context of the present day. In other words translating the teaching of Christ into the present, a tall order indeed, but one to which we’re surely called.

I think we’ll find a lot that we hear or pick up from supposedly Christian sources which actually does not comport with Christ, with the Spirit of Christ. It is not enough just to line up some beliefs that must be subscribed to, often seeming to have little to no connection to actual living. It’s about life as well. Are we following in the teaching of Christ (2 John 1) or not? It’s not only about Christ, but also Christ’s actual teaching. What about loving our enemies, seating ourselves with outcasts, taking in strangers, helping the poor beyond mere giving of scraps, a concern for justice, inclusion of all ethnicities, really of all as Jesus did, etc.? Of course not leaving behind any of the teaching. The Spirit of Christ will surely be at work in us collectively to that end.

If it isn’t Christ or Jesus through and through, then it’s not of the spirit of Christ. I’m not at all referring to perfection, because no follower of Christ or church will ever be perfect in this life. But it is about perfection in striving in the spirit of Christ for what is actually held dear by Christ. And again, that’s going to have to take some prayer and study, not just by ourselves, but together. And only as we keep on doing that will we be able to begin to see through spirits which are not of God, not of Christ. As we seek together to live in the spirit who really is of God and Jesus.

no interest in any god who doesn’t intimately care about every person who has ever lived

The LORD is good to all,
and his compassion is over all that he has made.

Psalm 145:9

Almighty and everlasting God, you hate nothing you have made and forgive the sins of all who are penitent: Create and make in us new and contrite hearts, that we, worthily lamenting our sins and acknowledging our wretchedness, may obtain of you, the God of all mercy, perfect remission and forgiveness; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.

Book of Common Prayer

Call it a protest against bad theology, or whatever, but I have no interest whatsoever in any god who doesn’t have an intimate concern for every human being who has ever lived or ever will live. I have to add to that animals, as well. I cringe when we watch Nature or something of the sort, noting the precarious nature of life, even the given of carnivorous existence to survive. Thankfully I realize that it’s really all beyond me. My own hope is that animals such as cats and dog, and I’ll add horses for my wife will be resurrected to experience the love in any new creation life to come.

But given the devastation that is all too common in the world today, and really has been throughout the earth’s existence, I have a hard time just saying that in the end it doesn’t matter, that there’s no love that continues, that once we’re born we die and that’s the end. Even worse, actually far worse for me is the idea that is commonly considered truth, even if hushed, that the vast majority of human beings will be damned to eternal suffering in hell fire forever and ever. Count me out. Any god that is even distantly related to that, or as is said, actually allows that, some saying even causes that, I think is worse than the devil, and I want nothing at all to do with that god. Period.

But thankfully God is Jesus, and in Jesus we see something quite different. And I would argue that over the scope of the entire Bible we end up with something quite different. God does intimately care for all, even for those who are not likeable. God is God, so much larger than us, completely whole in every way. God is love through and through and everything else that is good through and through. Yes God hates evil, and does get angry. We see that in Jesus when he made a whip and drove the money changers with their animals out of the temple. God is ticked off too, and evildoers will thoroughly be held accountable. But judgment is ultimately not retributive but restorative. Again I think when we turn the pages of Scripture we’ll find somewhat so again and again, and especially through the entire reading that God deals in what ultimately amounts to persistent love with each and everyone. I like the saying that if anyone remains in hell, Jesus is close to them.

That’s the God I see in Scripture and in Jesus. I have no interest whatsoever in the least with any other god.

“It’s not just that Jesus is God. God is Jesus.”

Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the worlds. He is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being, and he sustains all things by his powerful word. When he had made purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.

Hebrews 1:1-4

Forgive me for borrowing this from someone else who shared this in the recent past on social media, though it’s nothing new, but something we may not think much about. Yes, we take it from the witness of Scripture that indeed, Jesus while fully human is fully God. Just as mysterious as the thought of the Trinity itself, though in our modernistic mindset we somehow think we can explain everything, plumb the depths even of God. Though the world now understands that while we’re blessed with an emphasis on reason and modernity, that simply is not the case. But many Christians have yet to receive or understand that.

But to the point of this post: God is Jesus. While Jesus as portrayed in the gospels might not seem entirely right in our times, that too could be a misreading of some of the stories he told, completely fitting in that day, and not really putting God into the same light as some of the characters which have been misinterpreted as corresponding directly to God. What we clearly do see in Jesus is quite a contrast to even the best of what we find in the Hebrew Bible / Old Testament, while not at all denigrating the seriousness of the faith of those preceding him. Remember, Jesus said that John the Baptizer was greater than all who had preceded him, but that everyone in the kingdom of heaven were somehow greater than John. That must have to do with the superiority, or in the words of Hebrews “better” covenant, kingdom and King now present.

If you want to understand who God is, then you have to look at Jesus. Study Jesus, especially in the gospel accounts: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, and don’t stop studying him there. And then go on to what follows and consider Jesus in all of that. And begin to grapple with and understand all the rest of Scripture in that light, so that you see where God’s people surely fell short in their understanding of God. Yes, God gets God’s hand dirty by not only taking us seriously where we’re at, but working with us there; full, utter grace. But God won’t stop there until we see God for who God really is. And that can only be seen through Jesus’s life, acts, teachings, death, resurrection and ascension with the promise of his return. We see God as God truly is only in the face of Jesus Christ.

Advent ends up being as human as it gets

And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth and laid him in a manger, because there was no place in the guest room.

Now in that same region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for see, I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,

“Glory to God in the highest heaven,
    and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”

Luke 2:7-14

We’re all too human. With that comes wonder, awe, beauty, and just plenty of blessing. But that’s accompanied with great difficulty, struggle, and many conundrums not to mention the unexpected problems and even tragedies which can happen. And we’re all mortal.

What if Advent was all about expecting and experiencing the supernatural in some kind of miraculous way breaking into our world and making everything A-OK? I think plenty of people might settle for that, maybe we all would, whatever works. But Advent and the beginning of its fulfillment which we celebrate at Christmas is as human as it gets. Its fulfillment comes in the birth of a baby boy, but with great promise.

This promise not only enters our world to be with us, which is magnificent enough, but even more, to be one of us, ultimately one with us. This is why it’s important to accept our full humanity and emphasize simply being human as in fully accepting all of that, and all the limitations it brings. It turns out that God in Christ is fully present in that and when it comes down to it, in nothing else, at least not in this promise.

That is how the Advent hope is answered, God humanizing divinity and divinizing humanity, maybe more than so to speak. But helpful for us since above everything else, as humans it would seem that we would benefit the most from human help that is of God, but just the same, human. And because of that, we have all the hope needed, all the hope in the world that no matter what, all will be well beginning in the present to be continued and finished when “the Human One,” Christ, returns.

be human

For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

Galatians 5:14

I sometimes wonder if people’s ideology including their religion gets in the way of them being human. I should include myself in that, my ideology and religion too. Of course, there will be those who immediately counter with the point that it’s not about religion which they’ll say is wrong, but about a relationship. To which I might say that any practice of faith can be understood as religion, either empty or good (see end of James 1).

Paul is getting at what it means to be free in the redemption and life that follows in Christ. It’s about love, not about measuring up to some standard imposed by others or ourselves. Are we loving others face to face, just as they are? And are we doing that in spite of all our differences? Or are we judging them as somehow unworthy as if we are somehow worthy? I know people will say that they are made worthy by Christ and that others without faith have no such worth. But isn’t that sweeping by what is plainly taught in Scripture, that love of neighbor is not dependent on religious status (consider Jesus’s parable of the good Samaritan).

I think oftentimes atheists or agnostics might love better than religious folks who identify as Christians. It seems to me that our religion or ideology too easily becomes more important than what actually ought to be the point of it: love for all. I believe I know this firsthand. When you might point that out and try to help another see that their practice of religion may not really be helping them to love all and be loved, then they’ll see you perhaps as divisive, or questioning faith.

But isn’t the point of faith, love? And what does it mean to be human except to love? That sums up everything. To love through all of life in every situation. Just what that looks like can be challenging, and that’s where Scripture and faith can help. But to make love the priority is at the heart of what it means to be human, what we might say God’s intention for humanity is.

And Jesus is called the human one (instead of son of man) in one translation of Scripture (CEB). Humanity is restored in Jesus, and in true humanity nothing else matters at all if it is not animated by love. How that works out is sometimes most challenging in this life, and Scripture in major part is given to us to help us work through that. But make no mistake: God simply wants us to be human as human is meant to be. Which means we’re to love and be loved. Including loving our enemies, those who hate us.

As we seek to do this, we’ll begin to find our true humanity, atheists and the nonreligious included. And for us as followers of Christ, through the human one who loved as no one ever has though misunderstood and maligned by others, we will be in the process of recovering our true humanity, face to face with others, face to face with Christ. Our humanity and the humanity of the other will ultimately become the thing that matters and bonds us together in love. In and through Jesus.

Jesus’s invitation to the weary, heavy burdened ones

“Come to me, all you who are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

Matthew 11:28-30; NRSVue

Jesus gave an invitation during his earthly ministry which written here is still open to us today. It’s made possible through the ascended Christ’s presence everywhere by the Spirit.

And if we’ll just accept it and seek to enter in and remain in that, this will make the needed difference. It’s offered in grace to us, and it’s up to us to avail ourselves of it. We’ll be enabled to follow in the way of Christ. And as Jesus tells us here, we’ll find rest for our souls, since unlike our crushing, heavy burdens, the yoke we take with him will be easy, the burden light. As we learn from the one who is gentle and humble in heart. In and through Jesus.

the persecution we can expect

I have said this to you so that in me you may have peace. In the world you face persecution, but take courage: I have conquered the world!”

John 16:33; NRSVue

Tradition tells us that all the apostles were martyred except John. They all faced persecution, and mostly from the Jewish religious authorities. You might as well say that all of Jesus’s confrontations were with them. There’s no doubt that given the principalities and powers at work in the world, that there’s always going to be resistance to Christ. And the Roman empire afterwards infamously persecuted Christians. But what ends up being maddening, but then becomes like par for the course is the spiritual enemy entrenching themselves into the Christian religious establishment. That was true in Jesus’s day, and became true after Constantine. To avoid persecution one had to adhere to what the church/state ordered. And that included taking up arms against enemies, even going on expeditions of conquest, though always considered holy since such had to have the sanction of the state with the church tied to it.

Persecution can come from anywhere as we’ve seen, continuing to come from atheistic totalitarian regimes today, as it did in the twentieth century. But it can come wittingly as well as unwittingly from the religious establishment, indeed the Christian establishment, not far removed from the old Christendom in that their view of faith is so tied to a Christian nationalism or the idea of some Christian empire in which Christianity is supposedly protected by the sword, as well as laws put in place.

Christ said he would build his church, and nothing would prevail against it. But oddly enough that very same church can be subsumed into something else so that the light of Christ eventually is snuffed out.

There is nothing more dangerous than persecution that comes from the religious or has some sort of religious justification attached to it. I think today we need to be ready for that along with the backlash it will bring. A significant quarter of the church has lost its mind, which will eventually result in a loss of heart and soul. We’ll have to watch our step in days to come from the very ones who profess the same faith we do, but are infected by principalities and powers which make them callous to, even to some extent complicit in resisting what God is doing in the world especially in faithful churches that are set in following only our Lord.

prayer and then whatever else (all in love in Christ)

Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with thanksgiving.

Colossians 4:2; NRSVue

There’s a critique out there which has a point, criticizing “thoughts and prayers.” But honestly for the follower of Christ in God’s love, that’s generally where all the good begins. Otherwise we’re prone to want to do everything on our own and actually we can do that. But the needed change in us and in the world can only come from God. And prayer is a prime vehicle of that change.

Prayer is communication to God, deeper: communion with God. Through God’s word coming to us from scripture and in answer to prayer, our lives will take on a life and light that they otherwise wouldn’t have, from Christ himself. And there’s nothing greater we can actually do then pray.

Of course all of this has to be in God’s love in Jesus and by the Spirit. Otherwise it will ultimately be empty (1 Corinthians 13). But that doesn’t mean that when we’re upset and angry or struggling with loving someone that we shouldn’t pray. There’s no time prayer isn’t important. Good times, bad times, and every time in between.

And the word above from Paul is addressed to the church. We’re in this together. The more we join together in prayers, the more powerful prayer can be. Potent in God’s love cutting through into our lives and through us into the lives of others. And simply for those in whatever need, while we open up ourselves to be the answer to our prayers in whatever way God might put on our hearts. In and through Jesus.

when the Bible is made boring (a mortal error)

Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. And he said to them, “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?” They stood still, looking sad. Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?” He asked them, “What things?” They replied, “The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place. Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, and when they did not find his body there they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but they did not see him.” Then he said to them, “Oh, how foolish you are and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?” Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.

As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. But they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.” So he went in to stay with them. When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him, and he vanished from their sight. They said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?”

Luke 24:13-32; NRSVue

There are few things worse, if anything than making the Bible boring. But I fear it’s all too regular an event. Though at the same time I’m confident that most of the time most of the churches avoid the worst of this. Yet I fear that what our Lord reprimanded and corrected here is all too common with us.

When the Bible becomes an end in itself, it becomes a dead letter. Yes, there is much wisdom in the Bible which is helpful, even if one stops there. Beautiful sayings and poetry as well, especially from the King James Version. But unfortunately the way the Bible is taught in even some major circles is “as boring as hell.” Hell understood as an existence in which people have their way apart from God really ends up boring in that all goodness and love are gone, since everything is turned in upon itself and becomes something other, even antithetical to love for God and neighbor. There’s nothing worse than understanding or being taught the Bible in such a way that it is boring.

The Bible becomes completely alive when we realize what it is for. It is to point us to Christ and the good news in him. And all of it is to be read in that glorious light. That is what Jesus was pointing out to these two disciples who were befuddled over what had happened when Jesus had been crucified, the one who they thought was the Messiah. And here he was, standing before them, though they did not recognize him until later when he broke bread in their home. But Jesus pointed out to them that scripture was written in such a way as to find its fulfillment and might I say even correction in him.

Scripture is alive. Avoid like the plague pressing whatever theology you have into it. The best theology worthy of the name comes out of letting scripture be what it is, rather than making scripture conform to it. The latter is dangerous, even deadly. And I wish people would quit thinking that expository preaching is the only way to go. It’s not only not the only way to go but I think often (not always) lends itself toward a misreading of scripture. Scripture is all about where we live and the life to be found in Christ. Again, not to say that we shouldn’t comb every corner of it for insight. But even when doing that, we should try to see every detail in light of God’s revelation in Jesus.

the joy of meditating on (even memorizing) Scripture

Happy are those
who do not follow the advice of the wicked,
or take the path that sinners tread,
or sit in the seat of scoffers;
but their delight is in the law of the Lord,
and on his law they meditate day and night.
They are like trees
planted by streams of water,
which yield their fruit in its season,
and their leaves do not wither.
In all that they do, they prosper.

The wicked are not so,
but are like chaff that the wind drives away.
Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous;
for the Lord watches over the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked will perish.

Psalm 1

Meditating on Scripture is given to us from God to help us begin to see God’s will revealed to us in Jesus. The word translated “meditate” means to recite (see CEB in above link) to oneself. This may seem wooden, dead, and without God it would be. But the words somehow become alive, at least in many parts of Scripture, really in every part as we read, ponder, pray, and study, and keep doing that.

Scripture has all we need for every part of life. It is not exhaustive in actual needed information, like how to build an house, etc., etc., etc. But it does give us all we need to know how to approach such projects, along with problems and all of life.

We need to be in Scripture all the time, day after day, in the words of this psalm: “day and night.” It is what we practice: whatever we’re doing, whatever we’re going through, whatever we’re experiencing. We continue on, and find that while the words are often instructive in themselves, they ultimately lead us to Jesus, who is God’s most important Word, and in whom all the words of Scripture find their true meaning and fulfillment, even if in some cases setting them aside for the better which Jesus brings.

Memorizing chunks of Scripture can be quite helpful in this endeavor. Not just a verse here and there, though that might be helpful, too. But much better, understand the context, and memorize that too. This can help us meditate, recite to ourselves so that God can get through to us.

And so we’re to remain in Scripture: meditating, reciting, indeed finding ourselves somehow in that story from God. In and through Jesus.