religion that is worth the name

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 1:27

Religion has gotten a bad rap. It’s often contrasted with relationship, as if the two are contradictory, but not so in translations of Scripture. Religion is actually meant in part to bring us into relationship with God in and through Christ, and is about Christ-likeness, and God’s will for God’s people in Christ. One could say from both Scripture and maybe especially tradition, that religion involves rituals which help ground us in the gospel. Yes, rituals can become empty, but actually any practice such as the popular veneration given to “personal devotions” is in fact a ritual.

Religion worth the name is active on the ground. If it’s just about the afterlife, and getting people prepared for that, then you can count me out. Why? Because Scripture itself contradicts that, and especially Jesus himself, who went about doing good. We as his followers and as church are meant to do the same. It’s about love for our neighbor as ourselves which is closest to what love for God means. If it’s all about everyone being responsible for themselves, then we’re missing a note, indeed not in harmony with, if we’re even playing the tune of the gospel at all.

Basically what I’ve heard is a shrill harsh word against sexual sins, against socialism which is called communism, and what seems to me during the years I’ve witnessed it, a retreat into basically a strict personal application of Scripture, with an emphasis on personal salvation. And what is worldly being considered most anything that contradicts that.

Instead we have to get back, yes to Scripture itself, to Jesus understood rightly, the culmination of it. And we’ll certainly find the promise of the afterlife. But an emphasis on doing good now, taking care of our neighbor, watching out for each other, having a prayerful, active concern for the world. Anything less than that is neither religious in the proper sense, nor actually Christian.

what does it mean to be Christ-like?

…it is enough for the disciple to be like the teacher

Matthew 10:25a

Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’

Matthew 9:13a

Lately we’ve been considering what Christian should mean and that Christ-in-us is the heart of this. But what does it mean to be Christ-like?

While I believe it’s important that we as individuals and especially together remain in the entire Bible (including the Apocrypha), I doubt that there’s anything more profitable in scripture than carefully going over the gospel accounts: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, considering everything and with a focus on Christ himself, the one we’re called to follow, to imitate. All else must be seen and understood in that light.

Christ-likeness is many things, a life and practice in all the will of God. That is both individual and communal, separate and together both. None of us is Christ, nor all of us together. And yet we are individually called anointed ones, essentially little christs in John’s first epistle, and we collectively called the body of Christ. So in a true sense, when people see us they should see Christ. But honestly, what do they see?

Even with our inevitable faults and sins along the way, if we are sensitive to the Spirit and above all seek to live in love, humbly confessing our sins along the way, and seeking to live in harmony with other Christ-followers, as well as in deep humility before and with everyone in the world, then people will “see” something they won’t be able to put their finger on, well beyond merely us. Somehow the real Christ will be present, yes, even in us. Christ-likeness in the world looks like, or we should say comes out of this perhaps more than anything else.

That said, we need to make it our life-long study and prayer to be like Jesus in all of life: in the trials, good times, all the time. And a large part of that, as Jesus pointed out from the prophets, is to be people of mercy with each other, and with the world. When people think of us, think of Christians, they ought to be drawn, not because they’re drawn to us, not at all, but because they’re drawn to Christ-in-us. Because we have the aroma of Christ. Some will hate that, but many will be drawn to it to sit at the feet of the One whom our hearts are set on.


does “Christian” really matter if not Christ-like?

…and it was in Antioch that the disciples were first called “Christians.”

Acts 11:26b

Supposedly, or it has been said that the name Christian was coined on this new group in a derogatory way. What has happened since is just a whole lot of baggage with the name, so that to be Christian is a mix, and at best might mean a decent citizen and probably religious. But sadly it can mean a whole lot of other things not so good. This is centuries long, but akin to the problem of the good word, “evangelical” which here in the United States due to the past few centuries, and especially the past few decades has baggage that is hardly the witness to Christ which the name “evangelical” implies.

If I had to fill out a form, or if someone asked me if I am an evangelical, as one who resides at this time in the United States, I would have to say, no. And if someone asked me if I’m a Christian, I might say something like, “Well, I suppose, or at least I fit somewhere in that category, but I would rather be considered a Christ-follower.

Yes, there might be many Christians, but just how many are Christ-like? If Christ-likeness is about loving one’s neighbor as one’s self, loving one’s enemies, doing to others as we would have them do to us, etc., than we might find non-Christians who are much closer to that than many Christians. Too often in history and in the present, “Christian” seems to be about having been baptized, or having a ticket to heaven, and when one considers the life and compares it with others, really little and likely nothing else.  At least this is true enough that it’s evident to the point that it’s like the elephant in the room.

To become like Christ which is an ongoing, never ending process in this life is different than simply being a Christian and that’s it. And thinking one is set with that, when really it matters not at all if we’re not growing in our lives through ongoing repentance and faith to become more like Christ. It matters not at all if we’re not followers of Christ.

imagining yourself 5, 10, 20 years from now (and remembering 20 years ago)

And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another, for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit.

2 Corinthians 3:18

Sometimes it can be downright discouraging when we’re facing the same or a similar trial with the same poor response, perhaps tied up in knots and set on a panic or being completely ill at ease, even while praying. Not handling this or that all that well. Having a poor attitude, or even if trying, finding ourselves at a loss and essentially lost, as if left on our own and not feeling well. We should get a trusted friend to pray for us, get needed counsel, whatnot, and continue to pray ourselves. As it is, just as a friend was telling me this morning, you don’t see any change in yourself from day to day, just the same unfortunately. But when we look back on the years, maybe even a year, but especially five, ten, twenty years in the past, we can see some significant changes.

I have wondered if I could meet and talk to the Ted of twenty years ago, just how much affinity I might have with that person now. And whether that person back then would listen well to the Ted of twenty years hence. Or whether for that matter, if I could meet the Ted of twenty years from now if I live that long, whether I would have the wisdom to hang in there and find affinity with and learn from that Ted.

All of this gives me hope not just for myself, but for others as well. May God give us a vision of how we might be in the midst of troubles, of the same difficulties, compared to how we are now. Completely different. And perhaps from examples of others we’ve seen. I think God can do that, and I think God does. God is concerned about many things, but one of the most important of quite a few other important things surely, is just who or what we’re becoming, the people and persons we are, were created to be, in essence, our real selves in community and in Christ. So much is secondary in comparison.

God wants to change us into a different person. But that won’t happen overnight. It is incremental and will take time. However the total change will be so great that it will hardly be recognizable. But God can put that desire in us, allowing us to recognize enough along the way to encourage us and help us keep on keeping on. Along with others in Christ by the Spirit.

not the outcome, but what we’re becoming

For what does it profit them if they gain the whole world but lose or forfeit themselves?

Luke 9:25

We live in a day and culture in which winning is not only everything, but the only thing. Cheating is okay if you get away with it. Thankful for the exceptions to that rule, but by and large in the dog eat dog, climb the ladder while stepping on others existence, it’s all too sadly the case.

And we as Christ followers easily can fall into, get hoodwinked into the same mentality. If something goes bad our way, does not turn out well, or we don’t succeed as we think we should, we can be easily and all too completely upset.

But we need to learn to become concerned not about outcomes, but about what we’re becoming. We lose ourselves if we are about outcomes. But we gain our true selves if we are concerned about the person we’re becoming. Are we becoming more and more human over time, being shaped into the image of Jesus, and living accordingly? Or is it all about being “successful” according to what we’re told is success?

I’m glad God helps us through confession and prayer. God can and will enable us to use the seeming setback to accept and continue in the process of becoming someone who is truly not only good for others, but even for ourselves.

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.

Christlikeness: turning over the tables and driving out the money changers (consider with caution)

Then Jesus entered the temple and drove out all who were selling and buying in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves. He said to them, “It is written,

‘My house shall be called a house of prayer,’
but you are making it a den of robbers.”

The blind and the lame came to him in the temple, and he cured them.

Matthew 21:12-14

There seems to be an understanding of Christ as the one who was meek and mild, and always nice. And that if we’re to be like Christ we’ll also always be nice. We should always love everyone including our enemies. But what does love look like at times?

At the very least, sometimes we need to say the hard things. This may not be true of most of us, although all of us on some scale will need to do this even if the truth spoken is only with reference to ourselves. Jesus did and said the hard things in “the cleansing of the Temple.”

We are not Jesus so that if we ever depart from the general way of Christ-like love: humility and gentleness with a deference to all, then we’d better do so with much caution. Our default should always be to have a love which accepts all just as they are, but sometimes we have to challenge the systems, authorities and powers. Even attempt to throw a wrench in them to stop the works.

We are not to simply bandage the wounds of victims beneath the wheels of injustice, we are to drive a spoke into the wheel itself.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

It’s my own opinion that Christ is not that much present among those gathered in his name who are really not that much about Christ’s business. Usually taking in more of a personal application of Scripture which is often good to that point but stops there. We as followers of Christ have to be willing to take the hard stand at times, to do and say the difficult thing. Although again for most of us, we simply live in a way that is counter-cultural, in contrast to all the wrong, and leave the direct confrontation to those gifted or set apart for that.

We have to think through this with the utmost caution. For some, including myself, there’s a strong inclination and temptation to see confrontation as a default. If something is broke, we want to fix it. If it’s wrong, we want to call it out in no uncertain terms. It’s better for people like myself to stop in our tracks and pray. And pray some more with others and give it time. But after that it might be good for us to gently yet firmly step in and speak the truth.

Just something to consider.

what it means to be a Christian not just in name, and how

As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” And immediately they left their nets and followed him.

Mark 1:16-18

Jesus went out again beside the sea; the whole crowd gathered around him, and he taught them. As he was walking along, he saw Levi son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he got up and followed him.

Mark 2:13-14

He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.

Mark 8:34-35

Meanwhile Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any who belonged to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. Now as he was going along and approaching Damascus, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him.

Acts 9:1-3

Christian is seen in all kinds of ways, but it has been common during my lifetime to view it as those who profess faith in Christ, go to church, and are more or perhaps less marked out from the culture as different. Much fits into this space. Dig a little deeper, and you’ll find that there’s often an insistence in accepting the penal substitutionary atonement theory, that Christ took the punishment for our sins on the cross. If you believe that, accept that for yourself, then you’re marked as a Christian.

Setting aside for now the problem with substitutionary atonement at the very least in the way it has been presented, I would want to say that all the truth about Christ’s death for the forgiveness of our sins and resurrection by which we receive new life however we formulate that ends up being a given, as long as the crux of the matter is right. And here is the crux of the matter.

To really be a Christian in the sense given in the New Testament, to become one in the first place is all very simple while being profound. It means following Jesus. Individually and in community. Becoming Jesus followers. 

Yes, we have to decide individually, but it’s meant to be lived out in community. This is where we start, where we continue, and where we end. Following Jesus. 

By the Spirit in the community of the church. The entire church is supposed to consist of those who are followers. That’s the ideal. Of course everyone is in a different place in their spiritual journey. But unless we press home the necessity of following Christ, then we’re falling short of what it really means to be a Christian. Following Christ’s lead and in so doing, changing over time. Becoming more and more like him.

All of this as always, in and through Jesus.


we’re on our way in this life, so keep going (don’t stop)

Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus. Let those of us then who are mature be of the same mind; and if you think differently about anything, this too God will reveal to you. Only let us hold fast to what we have attained.

Philippians 3:12-16

The sense of having arrived, so that one thinks they’re all set as far as their lives are concerned is not a good place to be, even a dangerous place, frankly. If Paul could say he hadn’t arrived, then all the more so true of any of us. In fact Paul calls it a mark of maturity to acknowledge that, as well as to keep pressing on.

We are on a journey. It has inevitable difficulties along the way. One can’t help but think of John Bunyan’s epic work, The Pilgrim’s Progress. Although my own theological understanding in many ways does not line up with his, that entire story is a great illustration of what I’m trying to get at in this post. For “Christian” there are difficulties and challenges right to the very end on his journey to the Celestial City.

There ought to be the sense of having arrived only in the practices we ordinarily always do. But there is that sense in our hearts that indeed we’re still on the way, anticipating what we can hardly imagine, what apart from the Spirit’s help we can’t imagine at all, seeing Jesus as he is, and becoming like the one we love.

Let’s not forget that it’s always not only about us individually. “…the arc of history is long and bends toward justice…” God in love is working God’s purpose out, and God will get God’s way. Within that thought, we long for Christ’s return to at long last clean up this mess, and put in the new order.

But until then, and until our end in this life comes, we want to press on, in fact we have no other choice but to keep doing so. God will see us through to the very end in and through Jesus.

light breaking through

The unfolding of your words gives light;
it imparts understanding to the simple.

Psalm 119:130

Access to your words gives light,
giving simple folk understanding.

Psalm 119:130; CEB

Your instructions are a doorway through which light shines.
They give insight to the untrained.

Psalm 119:130; NET

“The better angels of our nature” is something akin to what I’m referring to here, that is, in our experience. We’re often frankly mired in what might be acceptable mindsets, attitudes and even addictions, all more or less acceptable as far as the world is concerned, acceptable to and often celebrated by most people. But we know better most of the time, at least deep down inside.

If we step out in faith, God’s words to us can help us, God giving God’s thoughts to us through Scripture and especially God’s revelation in Jesus. We have to purposefully commit ourselves to hearing a different word and adopting a different understanding to move us away from conformity to the world, to the spirit of the age which is antithetical to God, toward a formation more and more into the likeness of Jesus.

We need to pay attention, to be sensitive to where that light might be breaking through. To see all in a better, more full light. With grace toward all. A light as we seek to see everything, which can help not only us, but others through our embrace of what we get a good glimpse of and act in accordance to. A light which pours out God’s life and love to us. The light in which we’re to live more and more, even in the midst of this present darkness. In and through Jesus.