true religion today

“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!”

Amos 5:21-24

Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless. Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.

James 1:26-27

It is a sad time, and a difficult one indeed, worldwide. With the pandemic, and all that has swirled around that, and now with the murder of another black person at the hands of a white person, even one who is supposed to enforce the laws of the land. There’s little wonder over the reaction that has taken place, terribly mistaken as it is, from years and years of pent up frustration and anger and loss of hope.

The anger on all sides is nearly overwhelming. You have Christians on the religious right holding the line steady on abortion being the evil of the day, and too often minimizing other evils, in my opinion, though not always. Then you have Christians on the religious left who too often it seems to me think that a political change can solve the problem. I don’t deny at all that political process and change can’t make a difference.

But what both Amos and James are getting at demands more than religious services with lots of words on how to fix the problem. What seems needed is an underlying passion for justice, and a heart set on making a difference. This goes well beyond politics, how one thinks in terms for example of American politics: left, right, moderate, whatever. It doesn’t leave those behind, and I think there can be good points in them all. But what is at the heart for Christians and for the church is nothing more or less than what Amos and James were getting at.

What is needed is a change of heart that can lead to the other changes needed. And this should be seen in the church, in its care for each other, and for its community and beyond. And it must touch the troubles of the day with the healing hand of Jesus. Our politics of this world should not even enter into the picture. There should be the kingdom of God influence which permeates all we say and do. “The politics of Jesus.” When people look at the church, they should not be able to figure out what American or other national political persuasion we’re of. They should instead think something like, “Wow, these people really love each other and everyone. They care about the poor, the oppressed, the disenfranchised, pregnant women, the unborn, the born, everyone.

I am confident that’s already true across the board. But that’s not seen when we make a big deal out of our American political stance. All that does is alienate others. We should not care ourselves one bit as to where we do stand politically. That’s all beside the point. The wise words of Abraham Lincoln can help us here:

Sir, my concern is not whether God is on our side; my greatest concern is to be on God’s side, for God is always right.

None of us at all are on God’s side. But yes we can be and are, and we need to live accordingly, only in and through Jesus.

 

character versus giftedness

If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

1 Corinthians 13:1-3

The fruit of the Spirit (“love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control”) are not in competition against the gifts of the Spirit. But this passage from Paul makes it clear that without love, the operation of the gifts means nothing, at least not in God’s estimation of the person who practices them.

What I would like to tell any young, budding preacher would be something like what Paul is saying here. I would say, the gift part will come. That is important. But major on character. Make sure your life is in line with God’s call to love which includes living in and according to the truth.

Give me any day and every day someone who is faithfully plodding along with what might be considered a nothing out of the ordinary gift, but consistently and faithfully loves others, and loves God, their lives marked by obedience to God’s will. I’ll take that any day over a person who has an amazing gift, but is a bit fast and loose when it comes to character. The fruit of the Spirit is the goal in our lives toward Christ-likeness. The gifts of the Spirit are meant to help us move that direction. In and through Jesus.

doing what is right and loving others

Anyone who does not do what is right is not God’s child, nor is anyone who does not love their brother and sister.

1 John 3:10b

1 John is a powerful letter from the start, both in its simplicity and profundity. And one of the things John pounds home again and again in the brief letter is the importance of living by the truth of God found in Jesus which means obeying God’s commands, the most fundamental of all, to love each other.

1 John has much to say about this, so we need to read further. Love is made known in Christ laying down his life for us, and our love is made known in laying down our lives for the brothers and sisters (3:16). And this is about day to day acts of faithfulness, especially to meet a need.

So John stresses that God’s children do what is right, and love God and the family of God.

I am grieved when I see what seems to me to be less than that. Yes, we can’t see into other people’s hearts like God can, so that we need to indeed be careful. Sometimes it’s in overt acts such as harsh words. Other times it may be subtle, yet even worse, like when one is continually ignored. It may involve a slow burn. We need to watch ourselves, even check to see whether or not we might be misunderstood by someone to be doing that. And we need to pray for any who might be doing that to us. As we seek to do what is right and love. In and through Jesus.

when Christians disagree

I plead with Euodia and I plead with Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. Yes, and I ask you, my true companion, help these women since they have contended at my side in the cause of the gospel, along with Clement and the rest of my co-workers, whose names are in the book of life.

Philippians 4:2-3

It’s inevitable that no two people who think very long at all are going to think exactly alike. We all bring a different intellectual and moral calculus to our deliberations in making judgments on life. Certainly our experiences factor in as well, as does a whole host of other matters, so that it may seem at least on the surface that we disagree with each other. It can be a case of talking past each other in misunderstanding, but there are times when we do disagree. Or for whatever reason we might even be disagreeable simply because we don’t easily get along with someone else.

Whatever the case may have been, Euodia and Syntyche, two ladies who contended at Paul’s side for the gospel were at odds with each other. For one reason or another, they weren’t getting along. On some level, evidently they weren’t seeing eye to eye. And there was division between them. This was not something tolerable to Paul, certainly understandable when you consider this entire letter.

Paul counsels them to be of the same mind “in the Lord.” I consider “in the Lord” key, because that can make all the difference in the world when there is honest disagreement. We might be helped to see that the other person might have a point, that we might possibly be missing something. Or at least that our disagreement is not to be compared with our agreement in the power and truth of the gospel. So that even if we’re not in agreement on something lesser, we can at least recognize that it is indeed not as important as what we agree on. The problem sometimes is when one or the other, or both simply won’t let go of the disagreement instead of agreeing to major on what they do agree on, perhaps finding ways their agreement in the gospel, in Christ addresses their problem.

Oftentimes we develop an attitude, at least of weariness or of thinking that we can’t escape the issue being front and center. This is a problem in this day and age when we find a polarization in society, which is seen within the church, as well. How can we live together well with such differences? The answer is surely in our commitment to, not to mention our dependence on the gospel.

Paul counsels the church to help these women. It had become such an issue, that the church needed to step in, not to judge them, but to help them find their way to peace so that they could live well together in the reconciliation that is in Christ. And in so doing, they could become a model for others in how to live in the unity of the Spirit in their oneness in Christ through the gospel, in spite of what differences they had, or may have still had. Something we need to aspire to today, in a day when lesser things can impede and imperil what is first and foremost: our commitment to Christ and the gospel, and our unity in that. All of this possible in and through Jesus.

John’s word to us: love one another

Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.

1 John 4:7-12

We live in a day of deepening divisions, true to some extent even among God’s people. And there’s no question that out in the world there seems to be plenty of hate to go around. It may or may not be personal in nature, but the vexation level is high today; in other words, people are upset.

What do we Christians bring into this, or need to bring? Love for one another would be the Apostle John’s answer. We love each other in the midst and in spite of all our differences. Love overcomes and overrides all.

And it’s a certain kind of love: the same love by which Christ went to the cross for us, a sacrificial love from the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. It is a love that is to mark our lives as followers of Christ. No matter what else is true, we love one another.

When we do so we’ll find God present in a way we wouldn’t otherwise. His love at work in and through our lives in and through Jesus.

other things matter, but not without love

If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

1 Corinthians 13

We need always to be reminded that our faith is one of love. There’s more to it than that; it’s not “all you need is love.” Love is not really love in its fullness, separate from truth. Truth and love are joined together in Scripture (see 2 John). So we need to hold to God’s word in Scripture which ultimately points us to Jesus and the good news in him.

It’s a struggle, seeking to live in the truth and in love in this life. But in Jesus that’s what we’re called to, where we have to live and remain. Which means working through the hard places beginning with our own attitudes and actions, and in our relationships with others. In the context here with each other as believers, Christ’s body.

I like the list of what love is, what it doesn’t do, and what it does. We need it, to check ourselves, because at best our love is imperfect. The kind of love spoken of here is certainly a gift from God to us in and through Christ by the Spirit. But it’s also something we must work on in developing what we have been given into the warp and woof, the very step of our lives.

If everything we do isn’t informed and formed with this love, it has no value. To the extent it does, it’s a blessing to others, and to ourselves as well.

I want to live in this love far more. To love those who I at times struggle to like, at least what they’re doing. And to love the ones I naturally love with this kind of love. A love that is joined to the truth as it is in Jesus.

 

 

love imperfectly, but love

Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.

1 Peter 4:8

None of us have it all together. We’re all broken. We struggle in this way and that. And if we take life seriously at all, we realize that we fall short from our own ideal, and much more from God’s. But according to God’s word, the text above, love makes up for that.

I’m thinking not only of loving others so as to cover over their sins, look past them. But loving others helping cover our own deficiencies. That point is well made in this post.

That doesn’t mean for a moment that we should excuse poor attitudes like a critical spirit. No. And if we mess up or come across in a way that’s not helpful, we need to make it right as soon as possible. Nor does that mean we just let people run over us, and abuse us. But no matter what, our heart should be that love would always prevail.

Sometimes it’s hard. We may be tired, or feel unloved ourselves. That’s when we need to remember that no matter how we feel, God does indeed love us, that God has proven that in sending his Son, and not sparing him from the death of the cross, even for us. Indeed God in his love has led the way in covering a multitude of our own sins. And because of that we can do the same for others. And love, yes imperfectly, knowing that through that love our own deficiencies will be covered also. That people will indeed know we’re seeking to live in God’s love, and to love them and others. In and through Jesus.

shift down and relax

What do people get for all the toil and anxious striving with which they labor under the sun? All their days their work is grief and pain; even at night their minds do not rest. This too is meaningless.

A person can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in their own toil. This too, I see, is from the hand of God, for without him, who can eat or find enjoyment? To the person who pleases him, God gives wisdom, knowledge and happiness, but to the sinner he gives the task of gathering and storing up wealth to hand it over to the one who pleases God. This too is meaningless, a chasing after the wind.

Ecclesiastes 2:22-26

I think one of the staples of the United States has been hard work. I guess the Protestant work ethic has somehow figured into that. But we work long and hard. And production or how much you get done for the bottom line (profit), is considered critical.

I am trying to dial down, yet be fully engaged at the same time. Just much more relaxed, in fact essentially relaxed. I have been uptight for years, staying on top of everything, and pushing to the max always. But while that might have translated well in terms of output, I don’t think it was either that healthy for myself, or even for others around me who might pick up that spirit. One is more on edge then. Production numbers might be higher, but at what cost?

I’ve decided that for me to carry on day after day, I need once again to dial down. Staying on top of things as best I can, yes, but much more laid back. Our job can be fast paced and have one machine problem after another. And without knowing it, I can easily be living outside of God’s peace in the midst of it all.

My goal now: do one thing at a time, relax, try to keep everything going as much as possible, but not be upset when we don’t, even if I’ve overlooked something in that process.

It seems like that’s something the Lord may have been working in me for some time, to slow down, actually do less, and pay more attention to God and God’s priorities of love to others in Christ’s love, and out of love for God in response to his love. Too often in my life I’ve been quite driven, and while that can contribute to good numbers, it doesn’t necessarily mean the good that God is looking for. God might want something better, at least hinted at from the passage above in Ecclesiastes. In and through Jesus.

living differently

Therefore, since Christ suffered in his body, arm yourselves also with the same attitude, because whoever suffers in the body is done with sin. As a result, they do not live the rest of their earthly lives for evil human desires, but rather for the will of God. For you have spent enough time in the past doing what pagans choose to do—living in debauchery, lust, drunkenness, orgies, carousing and detestable idolatry. They are surprised that you do not join them in their reckless, wild living, and they heap abuse on you. But they will have to give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead. For this is the reason the gospel was preached even to those who are now dead, so that they might be judged according to human standards in regard to the body, but live according to God in regard to the spirit.

The end of all things is near. Therefore be alert and of sober mind so that you may pray. Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.

1 Peter 4;1-11

There’s is no question that the world, the flesh and the devil are present and actually in tandem in this life. Our only hope of escape is through Christ and our commitment to God’s will. This will require both the acceptance of God’s grace in the forgiveness of sins and new life given. And from that, just a steady “long obedience in the same direction.” We should come to the place in which we find the world’s headlong plunge into lust, etc., distasteful. While at the same time not supposing that we couldn’t be burned ourselves. We’re to commit ourselves to following Christ in the same kind of life he lived. Not a mere negation of what’s good, but actually an embrace of the true good.

“The end of all things is near,” is surely referring to the Second Coming. It seems in retrospect to be an empty word two thousand years later. Of course we can say it’s all relative, that when it’s all said and done it will be relatively short. And there are Scripture passages that hint of a longer period before our Lord returns. Our life spans are short, even at their longest, so each of us can say that for ourselves anyhow, the end is indeed near. And that’s especially so when one has lived a number of decades like myself, heading into my senior years. Yet I think of our daughter and grandchildren, and the younger present with us, along with those yet to be born. Life on earth goes on for better or for worse generation after generation, and yet the end doesn’t come. Our response should be one of faith and prayer. The text here tells us that we’re to live in anticipation of the end being near. That in itself is surely an act of faith. And again, echoes our Lord’s words to be ready for his return, even if there is a delay.

It seems our main response to the end coming is to be in prayer. We pray. Nothing fancy, and most of the time it’s not like we’re swept along, off our feet to pray. In fact it can seem like our prayers are empty. But we just pray and pray some more. We certainly seek to pray in the Spirit with different kinds of prayers. But the main thing is simply pray. To be alert so we can pray means to pay attention to life, to ourselves and to those around us. To be of sober mind for prayer is to refuse to get caught up into wild, reckless living for one thing, but also to discipline our own minds and hearts to not get carried away with whatever might distract us from doing God’s will.

Above all, we’re to love each other deeply, love our brothers and sisters in Christ. Yes, we’re to love all others, our neighbor as ourselves, and even our enemies. But we have a special bond of affection with those who like us are “in Christ.” We share in Christ’s love, in the family love of the Father, through the Holy Spirit. Though we might think so, this is not automatic. Otherwise we wouldn’t have it as an imperative or directive here, telling us to do so. And true love grows. It becomes more and more a part of who we are, so that to violate such love becomes increasingly grievous.

And last of all in this section of Scripture, we’re to be hospitable to each other and do whatever God gives and gifts us to do. What we are inclined to do, and thus over time can become good at doing. For the good of others. And we get good at it by just continuing to do the same over and over again. God is present to help us, and all such gifts are manifestations of God, of God’s Spirit. So something of God is in that very thing we do.

All of this to the eternal glory and praise of God in and through Jesus.

washing each other’s feet

Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.

John 13:3-5

To get the full impact on what was going on, you can click the link and read the entire passage of our Lord washing his disciples’ feet on the eve of his crucifixion. What occurs is remarkable, but easily lost to us who maybe have read it time and again. Jesus took off his outer garment and embraced the attitude of a slave. In love, as the passage says, he washes his disciples as any servant or lowly slave would do.

Peter objects, thinking it is demeaning to Jesus, and definitely won’t let Jesus touch his feet. But Jesus in his kind response makes it clear that if Peter doesn’t receive this, then he has no part with Jesus. I have often heard this applied to the truth that we’re cleansed of our sin or forgiven once for all, but that this applies to the daily cleansing we need through Christ’s blood, and with confession, as well as for unknown sins, as we walk in the light (1 John). I tend to think we can make an application that way. After all, Jesus told Peter that he didn’t need any more than foot washing since he was already clean along with the other disciples (except Judas Iscariot). Later that evening he tells them that they are clean through the word he had spoken to them (John 15:3).

What I think Jesus was getting primarily at is brought out in the text (again, the full link above). If they were going to be his followers, they would have to do what he did. Take the path of humility in love to serve others, especially each other. But also others. I am a bit skeptical over whether foot washing should be an ordinance in the church, except that in such cases it can serve as a reminder of what our Lord was getting at in this passage.

Out of love, the same love of God in Jesus, we’re to reach out to each other, even in our weakness, and in humility serve one another. It is something we do, no less. We don’t wait until somehow what’s needed is in ourselves. We live in God’s love in Jesus, whether or not we feel it, whatever our experience. And we’re to take the lowly attitude of a servant in doing so. Paul expresses what our Lord was getting at wonderfully well in Philippians 2, Jesus taking on himself the form of a slave in becoming one of us in the Incarnation, and further to the very depths in his death on the cross. And how we’re to have that same mindset in our relationship to each other. This is the posture we’re to take no matter what, come what may, in and through Jesus.