one of the nightmares of our time

Come now, you rich people, weep and wail for the miseries that are coming to you. Your riches have rotted, and your clothes are moth-eaten. Your gold and silver have rusted, and their rust will be evidence against you, and it will eat your flesh like fire. You have laid up treasure during the last days. Listen! The wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, cry out, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts. You have lived on the earth in luxury and in pleasure; you have nourished your hearts in a day of slaughter. You have condemned and murdered the righteous one, who does not resist you.

James 5:1-6

I would like all of us to wake up to what the Bible clearly holds as a priority time and time again, but the theology so many hold won’t allow that. So all we can do is pray and speak and try to encourage and participate in change. Just one of the nightmares here in the United States, the land of “the American dream” is the failure of whatever that dream is supposed to be to take hold for all. We white Christians by and large might think we’re insulated from this, that while we can help this or that person in need, that it’s really not our trouble or business. But that supposition is a failure to understand the repeated witness of Scripture. Also it’s a failure to understand how what harms one group ends up harming all.

Here in the United States we have way more than enough to fund college education for all, childcare and healthcare for all, which would pay itself off in spades. There’s no need or in my case want to get into the details of all of that. Except to say that the rich of the land have been living off the backs of the poor and it is only getting worse as time goes on. There is no good reason why everyone in service and low paying jobs shouldn’t be getting paid double the amount and more right now, along with full health care. None except greed along with a complete failure to understand the point of Scripture about this, and reality.

But we need to get America back to its greatness again, so we’re told. Back to what? A time when segregation was the norm along with laws limiting the rights and privileges of minorities which white Americans could take for granted? And let’s not go back too far: the time when the economy of the south was built on the backs of slaves, and because it was so beneficial for those in the north, nothing much was said. Although a rising tide of dissenting voices led to the Civil War. Like all nations, US history is messy, but we need to face every part of it. Don’t ignore things like the 1619 Project. You’ll learn a lot. We need to face the past squarely, and work at understanding the ramifications for the present time, and work to bring about full reparation in an immediate as well as full way over time.

All of this matters if the witness of Scripture matters. But if it’s just about us and Jesus, then I guess the witness of Scripture is secondary or that we have no responsibility except to get people “saved” and wait for Jesus to come back and take care of the rest. If there wasn’t such compliance with the advantages we live in and ignorance of the disadvantages of others, and if we would actually work at helping those in need, not only with mere handouts, but seeking to overhaul systems of wrong and greed, then such people could be taken seriously. God knows everyone’s hearts of course, and God is a God of grace. But God is not anyone’s fool as some of the wicked in the psalms seem to imagine. And we as followers of Christ do well only when our hearts are aligned where God’s heart is aligned.

Yes, God will judge with good judgment and the salvation to follow. But we as followers of Christ must bear witness to that now, and advocate and be part of needed change in the present, just as we pray that God’s kingdom would come, God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Or else we’re not in step with Jesus whose new way is a fulfillment of the passion of the prophets. The way of love for God and for neighbor in all times and places. In and through Jesus.

(Some of the most important points and a significant part of the impulse to do this comes from a thoughtful woman friend on Facebook who posted a far better critique of the present than I raise here.)

what honors God?

So… whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God.

1 Corinthians 10:31

This post is mainly for one reason, to get us to think about this question. The idea of bringing glory to God and honoring God, though not precisely the same in meaning are synonymous. Both are about revering and praising as well as bringing praise to God.

The context in the passage above (click above link) is quite different than a certain passage in the Pentateuch where it says certain ones brought glory to God by what they did. What honored God at one time may not do so anymore. There is what Christians call the old covenant along with the new covenant. You find difference and nuance elsewhere in human understanding of what humans ought to do, including in Jewish circles.

The point I want to remain on is just this: What honors God? Not what pleases me or makes everyone happy or makes me feel good or is entertaining or any number of other things that we often value. I’m not really thinking of how church conducts itself, though that should be thought about with this question as well. But I’m thinking primarily of how we should think and conduct ourselves. In the context of the passage above, it’s certainly about how believers live together when some are further along or more enlightened in their understanding of God’s will or when there are different understandings.

What honors God should be one of our primary questions. We factor in what loving God and loving others, even including our enemies looks like. We also factor in what is good and right. We hold ourselves accountable to that, and in certain contexts should hold others accountable as well, though our main focus must be on ourselves.

This is part of our walk in Christ Jesus. God will help us sort through what is in Scripture and elsewhere as we consider this in all of life. In and through Jesus.

just pray

pray without ceasing

1 Thessalonians 5:17; NRSVue

We all breathe one breath after another without thinking about it. Prayer needs to become like that for us. We breathe so to speak one prayer after another without thinking about it. We are in an attitude of prayer even when we can’t pray. There will be plenty of times when it takes effort for us to summon ourselves to pray, when there seems somehow to be a resistance against us praying. Just pray.

Paul tells us to do that without ceasing. Prayer can be understood as two-way communication between us and God. We need to be in Scripture as well. Our desire is to hear from God, to receive God’s word as we continue to pray to God. Note that this is given to the church. This is where that starts, and maybe the main point. We pray together, we’re in that together. But from that it becomes a part of each of us as members of Christ’s body.

Prayer includes a good number of things in no particular order such as confession, praise, worship, thanksgiving, petition/supplication, lament, even silence before God as in waiting on God. The one thing that should more and more characterize us as people of God and followers of Christ is prayer, the practice of prayer, as we seek in love to God and to others to live in God’s will, to do good to all. In and through Jesus.

what is sacrosanct to us?

One of the scribes came near and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well he asked him, “Which commandment is the first of all?” Jesus answered, “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”

Mark 12:28-31; NRSVue

“Everyone, then, who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock. The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall because it had been founded on rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not act on them will be like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell—and great was its fall!”

Matthew 7:24-27; NRSVue

Peter turned and saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them; he was the one who had reclined next to Jesus at the supper and had said, “Lord, who is it that is going to betray you?” When Peter saw him, he said to Jesus, “Lord, what about him?” Jesus said to him, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? Follow me!”

John 21:20-22; NRSVue

One of the most telling questions we can ask ourselves might be something like, What is sacrosanct to me? What do I live for? What do I base my life on? What might I be willing to die for?

We might give what we think is the correct answer, but our lives might belie that, in other words say something else. I was once in a conversation with another Christian who when I said I don’t base my life on the US Constitution seemed taken back and asked what I base it on, to which I answered, the Sermon on the Mount. Of course just what he meant would have to be uncovered, and there well could have been some misunderstanding in the exchange. But as followers of Christ we really need to seriously and prayerfully consider this question.

Jesus doesn’t leave much room. From the passages above, we find that we’re either following him in love for God and for our neighbor, including our enemies as we find in Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount which he insists that we’re to build our lives on, or we’re not.

So much else can get into the mix. We might think the gospel is sacrosanct or what’s most important and sacred to us, and what that points to, but some political ideology might end up being mixed in with that, which actually weakens our commitment to the gospel or might even make it null and avoid altogether. And we may end up disagreeing on what the gospel means in application. We have to ask ourselves is what unites us in Christ in spite of what differences we have. What unites us thus forms us and directs us in how we should look at this life and the world.

There’s much more involved in all of this for sure. And we’ll have to live with many disagreements or at least different ways of looking at things in this present existence. And we certainly should listen and consider what we can learn from each other. But in spite of all of that, the heart is the heart, what is truly sacred, and that’s where we’re to be united, to be one in all of life. In and through Jesus.

anything worth doing comes at a cost

I will not offer burnt offerings to the LORD my God that cost me nothing.

2 Samuel 24:24b; NRSVue

If we’re going to do anything at all, we need to really do it. Not try to get it out of the way. I’m thinking of any necessary task, but especially of prayer. And to do something right comes at a cost. We’re to do that out of love in response to God’s love to us and as an expression of our love to God and to others. We’re willing to do what it takes to really do it. That involves time as well as not skating through it as fast as possible. Slowing down and really endeavoring to do it right.

In the case of David here, he refused to be given a place to make sacrifice, insisting on purchasing it. This is one of those many scripture passages which stand out to me. A reminder to us that we’re to not shun what requires a part of our very selves, and to do that out of love. In and through Jesus.

how are we “more than victorious” (or “more than conquerors”) in this life?

Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will affliction or distress or persecution or famine or nakedness or peril or sword? As it is written,

“For your sake we are being killed all day long;
we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.”

No, in all these things we are more than victorious through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Romans 8:35-39; NRSVue

ὑπερνικάω is a heightened form of being victorious, meaning “we are winning a most glorious victory” (BAGD). Although the old translation: “we are more than conquerors” might suggest more strenuous activity on our part, the more accurate rendering still indicates that we’re very much active. We are participants of God’s victory in Christ. But just how?

Romans 8 from where our passage is taken is one of the greatest chapters of the Bible. We read at its very beginning that there’s now no condemnation in Christ Jesus because of the new law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus which has set us free from the law of sin and death. And what the law given on Mt. Sinai could not do since it was weakened by the flesh, Christ did by coming the likeness of sinful flesh to deal with sin by his death. And that because of this spiritual reality in which we “in Christ” live, we no longer have to give into the flesh, since after all, we’re no longer “in the flesh” but “in the Spirit” if Christ dwells in us. That we’re to set our minds not on the flesh, what it wants, but on the Spirit, what the Spirit wants. And that actually becomes what we want, even while in this life we sometimes think and live contrary to that.

And what precedes the above passage would be good to note here:

If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not withhold his own Son but gave him up for all of us, how will he not with him also give us everything else? Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? It is Christ who died, or rather, who was raised, who is also at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us.

Romans 8:31b-34; NRSVue

The gospel is essentially given to us in the first four books of the New Testament: the gospel according to Matthew, the gospel according to Mark, the gospel according to Luke and the gospel according to John. Gospel is the English translation of εὐαγγέλιον which means “good news.” In Jesus and his coming is the good news for the world. Of course, it’s through Jesus’s incarnation in God becoming flesh, completely human. In his life, miracles, teaching: all about and within God’s kingdom present in him, then in his death for sins and his resurrection to give us new and eternal life. With the promise of his return when what has begun now, making all things new, will at long last be completed.

And with that said, it’s up to us whether or not we’re going to answer the call of Christ. I believe that call is on every human’s life: past, present and future, but that’s another topic, and really quite above my head. Though really when you’re considering anything spiritual and specifically pertaining to Christ and the gospel, it is all above us, but God wants to help us begin to understand and live in it. But first we must answer God’s call in Christ. And it’s simply, as we see in the gospel accounts, a call to follow Christ. That means following Christ as our rabbi whom we not only learn truth from in his teaching, but whom we seek to imitate and become more and more like over time, a lifetime endeavor to be sure. And of course, that’s based on his coming, not only his death and resurrection, but the whole works. He became one of us, living in the same dirt and grind and mess in which we live, and then taking the worst of humanity on himself, both the acts and the results of such acts, all the rapes and murders and everything in violation of love to God and neighbor that has ever been done, every single act of ours and all humanity past, present and future. Yes, Christ took all that on himself at the cross, but did so for the joy set before him, enduring the cross, scorning its shame. For the love of the Father, for the love of the world, all in God’s love for the world, for all of us sinners.

Now to get to the main point: How are we overwhelmingly victorious in this life? It’s simply through following Christ through thick and thin, preferably all together as church, the one body, his body. We follow him in all of life, doing what Christ has told us to do: loving our enemies, blessing those who curse us, praying for and doing good to those who despise us, even turning the other cheek after we’ve been struck, never physically resisting evil, although fleeing and avoiding that is usually a good thing, and I would do what I could to prevent someone from harming another, never killing them. But we’re to seek to overcome evil with good, hate with love. Never taking up the sword, since we’re not in a struggle against humans, but against spiritual entities which do affect human rulers, and also do what they can to hinder us and our desire and endeavor to live in the reality of the good news in Jesus.

When Jesus told his disciples to get a sword if they didn’t have any, they told him, Lord look, here are two swords. And Jesus replied that two was enough. Remember when he sent the disciples out two by two previously, he told them specifically what to take, and the sword was not included. Very soon afterwards Peter takes one of those swords and slashes off one of the ears of a servant of the high priest. Jesus immediately rebukes Peter and tells him to put down the sword, that all who take the sword will perish by the sword, and that after all, he must do God’s will. Soon after that Jesus told Pilate that if his kingdom as King of the Jews were of or from this world, then his servants would fight, but no, his kingdom is from another place. So how we’re victorious has nothing to do with the world’s way of being victorious. It’s never physical, but always spiritual. Yet carried on in physical bodies in down to earth ways. Like feeding your enemies, giving them something to drink, and in so doing, heaping burning coals on their head, which I take to figuratively meaning they are ashamed.

Through the worst life and those opposed to us has to offer, as we continue on faithfully following our Lord as his faithful and called, following the Lamb wherever he goes, “we are more than victorious,” overwhelming so. That is the victory in which we live, the victory of our Lord which at the heart of it is taking the way of the cross. Becoming like Jesus in his death. But at the heart of that, coming to really know Jesus. That is after all what following Jesus is all about. It’s not merely knowing something in our heads, or thinking we know something. It is hearing the call and responding. It is heart to heart, involving a full commitment of ourselves to Christ. And that with others; we’re not to be on this journey alone. We want to help others come along, and we want to learn from each other, especially from others who have been on this journey longer. In doing so, we’re all being blessed by Christ, who has gone through it entirely, but is now ever present in our midst as well as in us individually and collectively by the Spirit.

And the last promise: nothing, nothing, nothing at all, including when we feel unloved and rejected and are tempted to despair, maybe even fall into that. Nothing at all can ever separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. That is a love personal to us, but which is also meant for each other, and out of that for the world, including all of our enemies. God’s love in Jesus meant to do the same for all as for us: Making enemies friends through Christ as we respond to Christ’s call to us with repentance and faith.

Yes, we are more than victorious, more than that, through him who loved us.

roll up your sleeves and get to work

Whatever your hand finds to do, do with your might; for there is no work or thought or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol, to which you are going.

Ecclesiastes 9:10; NRSVue

Therefore, my beloved, be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the work of the Lord, because you know that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.

1 Corinthians 15:58; NRSVue

There’s a huge contrast between Qoheleth’s down in the mouth, dire outlook on life and Paul’s take in light of the gospel of Christ and specifically the resurrection of Christ. Qoheleth basically tells his (or hers, but likely his) audience to give it all they’ve got, because this life is it. Work ends here, so you might as well give it your all, along with fully enjoying the simple gifts God gives, even though really “all is vanity.” Paul makes the point in the quoted passage from his first letter to the Corinthian church that if this life was the end, then what he and others with him were doing would make no sense at all.

If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.

But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died.

If I fought with wild animals at Ephesus with a merely human perspective, what would I have gained by it? If the dead are not raised,

“Let us eat and drink,
for tomorrow we die.”

1 Corinthians 15:19-20, 32; NRSVue

Paul is telling us that all we do now matters both for this life and beyond. It’s the work of the Lord, and what Paul was referring to was specifically the work he and others with him were engaged in: the service of the gospel in sharing the good news of Christ and seeing churches planted. And what a sacred work that is! But all of our work as unto the Lord, all of our works are actually sacred, no matter how mundane it may seem.

That sadly enough doesn’t mean that every job out there is good, or sacred in and of itself. We may want to find work that provides legitimate services to people, even if such services would be of no interest or use to us. Most or at least a lot of work fits in that category. We’re especially blessed if we do work which provides something needed for this life, and perhaps for the next as well.

Not only our actual work, but how we do it is of sacred importance to God. Are we doing it more and more out of the yoke of Christ (Matthew 11:28-30)? Are we seeking to do all out of love for God and for others? Are we seeking in everything to be pleasing to the Lord?

We need to roll up our sleeves, and set ourselves to fulfill whatever tasks we have, what is set before us. Letting our light shine in that way, that others may see our good works and glorify God (Matthew 5:16). In and through Jesus.

the end *never* justifies the means

And why not say (as some people slander us by saying that we say), “Let us do evil so that good may come”? Their condemnation is deserved!

Romans 3:8

This is related to yesterday’s post. But it seems that among many professing Christians today, and many of them identifying as evangelicals, that in their mind, the end justifies the means.

I think of the often used phrase, “baby killers.” Abortion is a huge subject in and of itself. But for followers of Christ, one wrong does not excuse another wrong. You don’t kill those who kill. Aside from the fact in my view that abortion like just about any other subject is complex, and while we can work toward their end through thoughtful, merciful and just policies, we have to realize that unfortunately abortion will take place. When driven underground, abortion purportedly does not decrease, but unregulated abortion increases the risk to women’s health. Again, much more can be said, and we need to listen to all sides. But this post is not about abortion.

Whatever the concerns, Christ-followers never excuse what is wrong, whatever that wrong might be. Although I am not confident frankly that all professing Christians have a good sense of right and wrong anymore, if that indeed ever was the case. To warm up to authoritarianism and be willing for democracy to be set aside seems to betray a less than sound theological understanding, not to mention what I think is a plain understanding of Christ himself, who did not advocate coercion, and of God God’s self, who respects the free will of all people.

And when it comes to the politics of this world, when God’s people saddle up to any politician or party, they’ve lost their way. Our one allegiance is to Christ and to Christ only, and God’s kingdom come and present in him. And to none other. If we do fail by giving our allegiance to this or that, “right or wrong,” then inevitably we will rationalize or brush aside that which is wrong. After all, “Isn’t the good being done worth it?” That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t vote or participate. We can, and I personally think probably often should. That is if we value democracy. Perhaps we put too much emphasis on the national, and not enough on the local (and the state). And we may choose for a valid reason not to vote in a given election.

The only politic that we can be fully apart of, and by which we judge and evaluate all other politics is the politic or politics of Jesus. Yes, Jesus does have politics. It centers in loving God and loving our neighbor, and it even includes love for enemies. It may seem to many invalid for a nation-state, but the question becomes, Are we Christ-followers, or not? And what does following Christ really mean?

Whatever may be the case on any disputable points, there’s one thing that’s not disputable. No, the means is never ever under any circumstance justified by the end, no matter how good that end actually might be. We never bring about good through evil. We need to remember Christ’s words and example of good in the face of evil, never responding in kind. Love being central in this. Desirous for the good of all, for the redemption and reconciliation of all things. In and through Jesus.

no, it’s not wrong to have a broken and contrite heart. quite the contrary

The sacrifice acceptable to God[d] is a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.

Psalm 51:17

After we’ve sinned, and I refer not just to “great transgression” (Psalm 19:13), but to all sin, when we confess and repent we’re often told to forget about it. That our sins have been removed as far as the east is from the west (Psalm 103:12) which is true upon genuine confession and repentance. But if we’re to take seriously the great penitent Psalm, 51, then we need to accept the fact that what pleases God is not only acceptance of God’s forgiveness to us in Christ, but also God’s acceptance and I would even say pleasure in a broken and contrite heart over our sin.

That doesn’t mean we should wallow in our sin, or hate ourselves. We hate what we’ve done, and not merely the consequences. If we hate only the consequences, then we certainly don’t have a broken and contrite spirit. For most sins the consequences are only a reminder that we haven’t arrived in this life, and that we do well to be more and more humble. For some sins the consequences may be greater along with the realization that there’s work for us to do to be rid of our tendencies without ever thinking we’ll come to the place in this life when we’re actually above the possibility of falling again.

No, with thanksgiving and praise to God we accept God’s forgiveness upon our confession of sin. But we also take our sins seriously, out of love for God and others allowing our hearts to be broken. So that our lives following will become different. Hating what we’ve done, and making amends as best we can with an entirely different life. Letting God, as the psalmist, probably David in Psalm 51 aspires, to do God’s work of thoroughly cleansing us on the inside, so that our hearts might be inclined in love toward righteousness and justice, wanting to avoid all wrong.

In and through Jesus.

the love that wins

When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, and one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”

Matthew 22:34-40

Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us.

1  John 4:7-11

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Matthew 5:43-48

The active love of God in Christ carried on by us to each other and to the world is ultimately the love that wins. It begins and ends in Christ. It is an “in Christ” existence, but thus our real selves are found. And yet it’s in a world like where Jesus lived so that we are called to love in the same way God loves and has loved in Christ: the way of the cross, loving our enemies, turning the other cheek.

This all begins with the realization that we are loved, deeply loved by the God who created us and wants to remake us in Christ. Christ is the human who fulfilled this, and we enter into this fulfillment ourselves, to begin to live out and grow into this love-filled life even in the hard places, doing so together in Christ.

In and through Jesus.