God’s word speaks into our lives, into life

Your word is a lamp for my feet,
a light on my path.

Psalm 119:105

If you read the Bible, God’s word from cover to cover you’ll find out God’s priority of love for God in response to God’s love, and love for our neighbor as we love ourselves. Justice along with mercy is a major theme, the end of the story, shalom: universal flourishing, prosperity, and peace in the new creation in Jesus.

If God’s word is to have the impact needed, we must be in it every day, day and night. And we must hear God’s concern for the poor, the oppressed, for the foreigner, the disenfranchised, those pushed to the margins. It isn’t only about my personal relationship with God, but it’s also about my relationship with others. And it’s about God’s people together in love as a witness to the world of God’s goodness and kingdom come in Jesus, feet on the ground and hands in love helping those in need.

It’s a new vision by which not only the world is ultimately judged, but which should impact the world to at least be held to a higher standard.

That’s part of what we have when we hold a Bible in our hands, open it up, read its pages, and respond to God’s word in faith and prayer. And keep doing that. In and through Jesus.

 

 

doing the hard work on the ground against racism

On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

“What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”

He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

“You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”

But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

Luke 10:25-29

Enough is enough. That is the attitude in the United States right now in response to yet another killing by a police officer of an unarmed African-American man. In a string and steady stream of them, really going back to the time when slaves were forcibly taken from Africa and treated worse than animals.

Jesus is questioned maybe sincerely, maybe not, but about what one must do to inherit eternal life. Jesus asks him what is written in Scripture and he gives what Jesus says is an apt reply. Jesus tells him to love God and neighbor that way, then he will live. He then asks who is neighbor is.

I have come to realize not just in my head, but by experience how prejudicial and actually judgmental I can be against those of another culture. I’ve learned to step back, stop myself, and listen, and think, and pray, and keep doing that. Looking at my own many faults and those of my people group. As well as seeing what’s special in others. What we’re called to in this passage is to love God with all our being, and to love our neighbor as ourselves. Simple, yet of course profound.

This will require repentance on our part, hands off to correct or manage, and a heart intent on loving others with a hands on attitude to help, to serve. Also a willingness to receive needed help from others, even from those who are wrongly thought to be inferior to us.

Yes, a big part of the needed change against systemic racism that needs to occur in this nation and around the world against all racism.

In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’

“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”

The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”

Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

Luke 10:30-37

 

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.

relationships are priority

Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

Matthew 22:34-40

Depending on our upbringing, circumstances, our own bent, we emphasize certain things. For me it is hard, hopefully thoughtful work. Whatever it might be for any of us, we need to get back to what Jesus said is first priority.

Jesus said that wholehearted love for God, and love for our neighbor as ourselves is more important than anything else, and actually, when we consider it, gives the true meaning to everything else.

When we’re failing to love, we need to put a stop to what we’re doing then and there. And correct that, and make right any wrongs we have done. And learn from that, so that hopefully this truth is impacting and embedding our mind and heart, our lives. That love for God and for others matters above all else. Then we can do whatever needs to be done with that in mind. With the goal to always keep that front and center, no matter what we’re going through, or are up against. 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.

our humble, faithful witness

Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.

1 Peter 2:11-12

It is important to be faithful day after day. I did not say perfect, but faithful. None of us is perfect; we’re not going to realize that in this life. But we’re to be faithful, which includes plugging away in what we have to do every day and doing so in a way that is a witness to those around us. That will include repentance on our part along the way, and growth in grace, as we seek to love others because of God’s love for us, and our love for God in return, in Christ.

I have found this to be powerfully and wonderfully true in my own experience. God can work wonders even through us, in spite of and perhaps even through our imperfection, but honest attempt to remain faithful. We want to be pleasing to God and a blessing to others. That is our goal. And God will help us as we continue on day after day. In and through Jesus.

the opinion/knowing that matters

This, then, is how you ought to regard us: as servants of Christ and as those entrusted with the mysteries God has revealed. Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful. I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself. My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait until the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of the heart. At that time each will receive their praise from God.

1 Corinthians 4:1-5

I think it’s wise when a church does not rush into judgments “where angels fear to tread.” At the same time the church does have responsibility to make judgments on cases involving sin which violate covenant faithfulness. We see that in this same letter, soon following this passage (5:1-13). So this passage has nothing at all to do with that.

What Paul was getting at here is judgment of the heart: the motives, why people, specifically in this case Christian leaders do what they do. Whether it’s for the glory of God, out of love for God and for others. And that standard was not just for leaders, though they were to exemplify it.

The older I get, the less trusting I am of either my own motives, or my ability to judge them. It has been well said, people have mixed motives for what they do. Some may be good, some not as good, and some even bad. It it’s to call any attention to ourselves, or somehow to make us think we’re better than others, than of course it’s no good. I am skeptical of the idea that whenever we do something, it is bound to have mixed motives. I’m not sure that’s sound Biblically and theologically. By grace it seems to me that we can do something out of sheer love. But in the end I would go where Paul goes in this passage. I can’t judge the heart on any particular instance. Only God can do that.

Sometimes I do need some straightening out along the way. That can come indirectly through others, and always directly from the Lord through the convicting, convincing work of the Holy Spirit. Often though for me, I’m muddling along in the messiness of life, aware of perceived deficiencies, sometimes seeming to crush me in a kind of condemning way, a sure sign that God is nowhere near such a judgment.

Anything like that we need to let go of. Realizing that in the end it’s God who will make the final judgment, and in the meantime will help us along the way. The bottom line is that we need to trust in God. Sometimes in this life someone like a needed surgeon, can help us discern issues underneath the surface which are harmful to us, and likely to others (Proverbs 20:5).

In the end, it’s God who makes all the final judgments. And note that then, each person will receive praise from God. Not condemnation at all, nor even censure. The text says, praise from God. We can’t make an argument from silence, but this is encouraging. I take it that the Father will want to sound that note for each of his children, when it’s all said and done.

Does this thought lend itself to carelessness? I surely hope not. God’s grace is at work in our lives to give us a heart to follow him in love and service for others. In and through Jesus.

prejudice, racism, and loving your neighbor as yourself

“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”

The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”

Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

Luke 10:36-37

Jesus’s parable of the Good Samaritan is considered a classic for good reason. And it really puts us on our heels in a number of ways, regardless of who we are. (Read or listen to this interesting piece.) The one who did good was part of a people who were not only looked down upon, but utterly despised by the Jews. Samaritans did not hold to the faith, and they were a mixed race. But Jesus singled out a Samaritan, as opposed to a Jewish priest and levite, as being the one who epitomized what it meant to love one’s neighbor, a staple of the Jewish faith, in contrast to the Jewish religious men who failed to do that.

There’s no way getting around it. We probably all struggle with prejudice. It’s not like we ought to simply accept that, but when we don’t understand another culture, it is easy to simply dismiss them as somehow not measuring up, yes to our culture. And surely they end up looking at us in much the same way. Just that realization should help us curb our tendency toward prejudice. We realize our own weakness and lack of understanding, so that we more and more refuse to prejudge anyone. Rather we might ask questions, or simply assume the best. While at the same time giving no one a free pass on what is plainly wrong.

Racism is another, more serious matter. It has a marked, troubling history in the United States, and actually is still alive today. And for one reason: humans are sinful, and inherently see others who are different as somehow inferior to themselves. Again, refer to the article linked above which I would say substantiates this Christian claim, even if people in it would not use the word “sin”. If we all struggle with sin, then to some extent, we might struggle with racism. Racism simply put is the opinion, even conviction that one’s own race is somehow superior, and that other races are somehow inferior. By race I mean one’s ethnicity, their ethnic roots, which oftentimes is marked by skin color and culture.

Scripture does not either deny the diversity within humanity, or try to tamp it down. Rather, as we see in the last book in the Bible, it acknowledges and one might even say, celebrates it. The gospel in the reconciliation it brings, integrates into the one humanity, all the different peoples. And that would include everything they have to contribute to the whole. This is all considered a gift from God in creation, and especially in new creation in Jesus.

Like “the good Samaritan,” it’s not enough at all to agree intellectually. We must act on that, regardless of what prejudices we still might have. And see ourselves not only as givers, but also as receivers of God’s good gift and blessing from others who we don’t readily identify with. More and more learning to see our differences as complementary, as we find our unity in the love of God that is in and through Jesus.

we become like who or what we focus on, what we love and hate

Why do the nations say,
“Where is their God?”
Our God is in heaven;
he does whatever pleases him.
But their idols are silver and gold,
made by human hands.
They have mouths, but cannot speak,
eyes, but cannot see.
They have ears, but cannot hear,
noses, but cannot smell.
They have hands, but cannot feel,
feet, but cannot walk,
nor can they utter a sound with their throats.
Those who make them will be like them,
and so will all who trust in them.

Psalm 115:2-8

A frightening thought today: but I think it’s psychologically, and far more importantly for me, biblically and theologically sound: We become like who or what we either love or hate.

First the easier, or more obvious: We become like what we love. I think of a man and woman who have been happily married at least a good share of their marriage for decades. They know each other practically better than they know themselves, and feel completely at home only in the presence of the other. They may have completely different personalities, but they believe they are one flesh in the holy state of matrimony. That may seem like a far fetched example, but there is a sense of awe and reverence for the other which ought to carry over into all of life. Akin to “the fear of the LORD being the beginning of knowledge” (Proverbs).

We become like the one we admire. And who should we admire and esteem the most? Of course if there’s a god, than that god, at least you would think. We Christians reverence God and accept the love of that Triune God in and through Christ by the Holy Spirit. And Scripture tells us that we as God’s children through faith in Christ are being made more and more like Christ. We somehow through God’s work are becoming more and more the people we were created to be, no less than brothers and sisters in the very family of God.

But what if we don’t love God? What if it’s a love focused on ourselves, or someone else? Then either we, or whoever, or even whatever becomes the measure of everything. And the problem with that is that we’re all sinners. We are a mix of good and bad, beautiful and ugly, but somehow never measuring up to whatever good aspirations we might have. And often pursuing what is really not good at all, or is at least a waste. It ends up being the blind leading the blind, like sheep going astray, heading toward a dead end, or even for a cliff. Not good to say the least. We need God’s grace and salvation found in Jesus.

What about what we hate? We must beware here. Indeed we should hate all that’s evil, while we love all that’s good. But we must be careful lest in that hatred we become like the very thing we hate. In the passage above, people of olden times didn’t necessarily love their gods. In fact they often feared them in more like utter fright, believing them to be vindictive if they failed to meet their demands. And while we may not have those kinds of gods today, we do have figurative gods in their place that are every bit as real. The idol of ambition to make it to the top and maybe be well known. The idol of pleasing someone who or something that demands a loyalty that is both crushing and demeaning. Causing us to act in certain ways we never would otherwise. Whatever it might be, anything less than the God revealed in Christ and found in Scripture does not deserve any such place in our hearts and lives.

The dearest idol I have known,
Whate’er that idol be,
Help me to tear it from thy throne,
And worship only thee.

William Cowper

Only God’s grace meaning God’s undeserved, unearned favor in the gift of Christ can make the needed difference in our lives. But even after receiving that grace, we must beware lest we drift back into our old ways. We must hold onto God’s grace in Jesus through faith. We must turn away from other things and keep our focus on Christ. In so doing we will be looking into the face of God. And will change from glory to glory into that resemblance beginning in this life, to be perfected when we see Jesus.