secondary matters

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.”

Matthew 23:23-24

Jesus’s words here remind me of my own life and even the life of the church if I were to cite concerns. We easily get caught up in secondary matters, things necessary in their place which need to be attended to. And we often are focused on issues which distract us from what’s most important.

Our theological concerns can be far too narrow, and that becomes evident in what we are thinking about and what we do as a result. Is our view becoming more and more expansive like God’s? Or are we concerned about only the things which most directly affect ourselves both for this life and the next?

Jesus makes it clear that justice, mercy and faithfulness are to take priority over other matters. A key tactic of the devil, or so it seems to me is to get us sidetracked into obsessions which seem so important, but cause us to lose out over what is of first importance.

We need to take care of what we might call nuisance questions and problems. And in this life we’re beset by them, no doubt. But we must not let what is of primary importance be crowded out. Loving others, loving our neighbor as ourselves, loving even our enemies, certainly not neglecting those near and dear to us, all of this in our love for God must take priority. As we seek to follow Jesus in everything. In and through Jesus.

love fearlessly

God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.

We love because he first loved us. Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.

1 John 4:16b-21

The sermon I heard yesterday, “Love Fearlessly,” seemed to turn the normal interpretation of this passage on its head, I might say in typical Anabaptist fashion. The passage itself bears this interpretation. If we know that God’s love for us is absolute and sure no matter what we face or even what we’ve done, then we can love others with that same kind of love. And God’s love experienced and lived in by us banishes our fear, so that we can love others fearlessly.

Christ took care of sin’s claim on us through his death, so we need not fear. Instead we can accept God’s love for us and share that same love with others, all others. This is the love that through Christ truly wins forever.

Our experience goes in and out so that we can’t wait on experiencing God’s perfect love to the point that our fear is gone. Yes, we’ll experience that at times, but we need by faith to accept that love in spite of our fears. And we need to love others even when we’re afraid. Loving fearlessly means we push through our fears with that love which ultimately drives out all fear.

To be lived out in community and in our individual everyday lives. Something I want to be working on from every conceivable angle. In and through Jesus.

what are we here for?

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

When it’s all said and done, we humans exist for two reasons: To love God, and to love people. All of this within, from and through the God who is love. God’s work in Christ in forgiveness of sins and new life is given that we might fulfill this. This is not something we drum up ourselves. We live this out only through God’s grace: God’s undeserved gift to us in Christ.

Everything else in a way is secondary to this, or better is a part of this love to God, as well as love to our neighbor including our enemies (real and imagined). It is through God’s love that we live out this love in response to God. But regardless of how we feel- our experience, our commitment should be to love God and love people.

This same truth comes up in a different context in Luke’s gospel account (10:25-37). Jesus made it clear there that this love is demonstrated on the ground, where people live. We show it by good works of loving service to others, particularly those in need. As well as simply loving everyone, our expression of love to God. In and through Jesus.

who is in Jesus’s family?

While Jesus was still talking to the crowd, his mother and brothers stood outside, wanting to speak to him. Someone told him, “Your mother and brothers are standing outside, wanting to speak to you.”

He replied to him, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” Pointing to his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.”

Matthew 12:46-50

I’m not into doing posts in reaction to what is happening out there. Mostly they relate to things I’m working through in my own life. I must say though that after living through the past four years and what’s preceded that, there has come some breaking points for me. To the point now that I left a tradition in which I lived for over four decades. And I still work for a ministry in that tradition in the factory end, and I continue to have a high regard for that ministry both in its substance, and in the humility and integrity in which its done.

Jesus’s words in the gospels are potent, and no less here. Striking indeed that Jesus makes this point you might say at the expense of his natural family. It’s not like they no longer mattered to him, as we can see throughout the rest of the story. Blood matters, even with Eugene Peterson’s rendering in this passage: “Obedience is thicker than blood.” In the realm Jesus was referring to, one’s physical descent matters nothing at all. There has to be an obedient faith for one to be in this spiritual family.

Jesus makes it plain that it’s only those who follow the will of his Father who are in this Spirit born family. And this isn’t merely “accepting Jesus as my Savior,” going to church, reading the Bible now and then, memorizing a verse here and there. No. It’s more if we’re to be included in what Jesus is saying here.

It’s doing the will of the Father, doing God’s will, even as Jesus did. As given to us in Scripture: the heart of that being to love God with all of our being and doing, and to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. And this includes loving our enemies. Don’t forget Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7). The way of the cross in this life. Etc. In and through Jesus.

what John “the elder” and beloved apostle of our Lord might say to us now from 1 John 3:11-24

For this is the message you heard from the beginning: We should love one another. Do not be like Cain, who belonged to the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own actions were evil and his brother’s were righteous. Do not be surprised, my brothers and sisters, if the world hates you. We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love each other. Anyone who does not love remains in death. Anyone who hates a brother or sister is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life residing in him.

This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.

This is how we know that we belong to the truth and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence: If our hearts condemn us, we know that God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God and receive from him anything we ask, because we keep his commands and do what pleases him. And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us. The one who keeps God’s commands lives in him, and he in them. And this is how we know that he lives in us: We know it by the Spirit he gave us.

1 John 3:11-24

For this is the original message we heard: We should love each other.

We must not be like Cain, who joined the Evil One and then killed his brother. And why did he kill him? Because he was deep in the practice of evil, while the acts of his brother were righteous. So don’t be surprised, friends, when the world hates you. This has been going on a long time.

The way we know we’ve been transferred from death to life is that we love our brothers and sisters. Anyone who doesn’t love is as good as dead. Anyone who hates a brother or sister is a murderer, and you know very well that eternal life and murder don’t go together.

This is how we’ve come to understand and experience love: Christ sacrificed his life for us. This is why we ought to live sacrificially for our fellow believers, and not just be out for ourselves. If you see some brother or sister in need and have the means to do something about it but turn a cold shoulder and do nothing, what happens to God’s love? It disappears. And you made it disappear.

My dear children, let’s not just talk about love; let’s practice real love. This is the only way we’ll know we’re living truly, living in God’s reality. It’s also the way to shut down debilitating self-criticism, even when there is something to it. For God is greater than our worried hearts and knows more about us than we do ourselves.

And friends, once that’s taken care of and we’re no longer accusing or condemning ourselves, we’re bold and free before God! We’re able to stretch our hands out and receive what we asked for because we’re doing what he said, doing what pleases him. Again, this is God’s command: to believe in his personally named Son, Jesus Christ. He told us to love each other, in line with the original command. As we keep his commands, we live deeply and surely in him, and he lives in us. And this is how we experience his deep and abiding presence in us: by the Spirit he gave us.

1 John 3:11-24; MSG

I would like to emphasize three things at the beginning. First of all, I can’t really know what John would say, and I’m especially thinking of him in his old age when he wrote this letter. And even if I could, what he would say would not be inspired in the same sense as this letter is, being part of Holy Writ. Yet I’m sure we would all be bending our ear to hear all he would humbly put forward, one of Christ’s Apostles, who has seen so much, and taken it in well. All of this fast forwarded with John seeing and understanding our present times in the backdrop of history. A tall task for anyone, including historians and theologians, or we could say historical theologians, etc.

I think John might pause here to draw the line between love and hate. How we either are doing one or the other. That we’re to reject hatred of our brothers and sisters who may differ with us on the issues of the day. I think John might also warn against getting caught up in the culture war, on one side or the other. Our call is to follow Christ and be obedient to Christ’s commands. The foremost of which is to love our brothers and sisters in Christ. And even to love our enemies.

If we don’t love, it can easily turn into hate. We might think otherwise, but that really does seem to be the case. For us in Christ, it’s either the Spirit of Christ or the flesh, one or the other. And the flesh is allied with the spirit of the antichrist within the unholy trinity of the world (system), the flesh, and the devil. Hating someone is equal in God’s eyes to murdering them in our hearts. And we can’t be tepid in our love, because we know the God who is love. This is quite slippery in its deception for all of us, who think we’re on the right side, that we have it right when it comes to the issues of the day, and/or our stance on them, which in itself is a bit pompous. Are we going out of our way to love those on the other side who are one with us in Christ? Not to mention those who may well have an empty profession of faith, evident in their misdeeds.

It is easy to be distraught about what is going on, about others, and maybe especially about ourselves. We feel like we’re judged, and we know to some extent we deserve condemnation for things we’ve done and left undone. Of course the accuser of the sisters and brothers is always ready to cast the same on us, and we’re all too ready to take it in. No, John tells us. Let’s go out of our way to love each other, even when feeling this way. In practical, down to earth ways; not just saying it, and stopping there- maybe even feeling good about that, but doing it.

God will meet us as we endeavor to do that. And help us to live in that Spirit of love, where God lives as the God who is love. Our task is simple, yet profound: to believe in the name of God’s Son, Jesus, and to love each other in Jesus, and to love even our enemies as we follow Jesus. In imaginative, helpful ways God helps us see. Over time that can go a long way toward quelling the troubles of our day. As we point ourselves and others to God’s kingdom to come and present now in and through Jesus.

returning to our first love

Write this to Ephesus, to the Angel of the church. The One with Seven Stars in his right-fist grip, striding through the golden seven-lights’ circle, speaks:

“I see what you’ve done, your hard, hard work, your refusal to quit. I know you can’t stomach evil, that you weed out apostolic pretenders. I know your persistence, your courage in my cause, that you never wear out.

“But you walked away from your first love—why? What’s going on with you, anyway? Do you have any idea how far you’ve fallen? A Lucifer fall!

“Turn back! Recover your dear early love. No time to waste, for I’m well on my way to removing your light from the golden circle.

“You do have this to your credit: You hate the Nicolaitan business. I hate it, too.

“Are your ears awake? Listen. Listen to the Wind Words, the Spirit blowing through the churches. I’m about to call each conqueror to dinner. I’m spreading a banquet of Tree-of-Life fruit, a supper plucked from God’s orchard.”

Revelation 2:1-7; MSG

To really get a good overall picture, and just how we might fit into the scheme, or what God might be saying to us, we surely need to read each of the seven letters to the churches in Revelation 2 and 3. The first letter here as rendered by Eugene Peterson, or in any translation, for that matter, is striking and noteworthy. This church is as zealous as it gets, but their zeal while at least largely based on head knowledge, has left its/her first love, or the love this church had at first. And thus we might say it was bereft of heart knowledge, or a knowledge driven by love. Love for Christ, and the love which follows from that.

It’s a burden to try to apply these letters to us as individuals, and it’s important to see that they’re actually written to churches. But individuals make up churches, so we all have to ask how they might apply to us, what we might be contributing to the situation. Notice that the blessing at the end is applied to individuals who overcome. I would like to think that I fit, or would prefer to be part of a church like Philadelphia, having little strength, but faithful, and simply being told to hold on to what they have until Christ returns. But we need to prayerfully read and consider all these letters.

How do we fall from the first love we had? And Jesus makes no bones about it, they either have to repent as a church, or he’ll put their light out, so that they’ll be a church in name, only. No church was more active, but that’s doesn’t mean they were okay. Far from it, though Jesus does give them the nod of approval for their hatred of the works of the Nicolaitans, which he too hated.

I’m not sure. I think it can become more about what we’re doing than anything else. Maybe we need to stop in our tracks, shut our mouths, quit doing what we’re doing, maybe something like a silent retreat. Then maybe we’ll be able to hear what the Lord is saying to us. It’s a work of the Spirit, quite beyond us. It’s not like sitting in a schoolroom where we might possibly figure it out with the help of the teacher. No.

I will offer this from my own life and experience. I think the more we realize life is all about love, that God is love, and that Christ’s love for us is as great, deep and true as love can get, then that can help us. But it’s so easy to substitute doing, doing and more doing for the real thing. Let’s find that love, enter into it, live it out with each other, and out into the world. And keep doing that. Then what we do will matter. And Jesus’s life and love will continue among us as a light for us and for the world. In and through Jesus.

what John “the elder” and beloved apostle of our Lord might say to us now from 1 John 2:3-11

We know that we have come to know him if we keep his commands. Whoever says, “I know him,” but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in that person. But if anyone obeys his word, love for God is truly made complete in them. This is how we know we are in him: Whoever claims to live in him must live as Jesus did.

Dear friends, I am not writing you a new command but an old one, which you have had since the beginning. This old command is the message you have heard. Yet I am writing you a new command; its truth is seen in him and in you, because the darkness is passing and the true light is already shining.

Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates a brother or sister is still in the darkness. Anyone who loves their brother and sister lives in the light, and there is nothing in them to make them stumble. But anyone who hates a brother or sister is in the darkness and walks around in the darkness. They do not know where they are going, because the darkness has blinded them.

1 John 2:3-11

Here’s how we can be sure that we know God in the right way: Keep his commandments.

If someone claims, “I know him well!” but doesn’t keep his commandments, he’s obviously a liar. His life doesn’t match his words. But the one who keeps God’s word is the person in whom we see God’s mature love. This is the only way to be sure we’re in God. Anyone who claims to be intimate with God ought to live the same kind of life Jesus lived.

My dear friends, I’m not writing anything new here. This is the oldest commandment in the book, and you’ve known it from day one. It’s always been implicit in the Message you’ve heard. On the other hand, perhaps it is new, freshly minted as it is in both Christ and you—the darkness fading away and the True Light already blazing!

Anyone who claims to live in God’s light and hates a brother or sister is still in the dark. It’s the person who loves brother and sister who dwells in God’s light and doesn’t block the light from others. But whoever hates is still in the dark, stumbles around in the dark, doesn’t know which end is up, blinded by the darkness.

1 John 2:3-11; MSG

John today might tell us that we need to get back to basics and live there. What is most basic about us and others around us in Jesus is not our political stance, as important as that is in terms of God’s kingdom and grace present in Christ. What’s most basic for us is our fellowship of love together in God the Father and in Jesus Christ. Nothing else matters in comparison.

When we make something else so basic and important that it divides us from other believers, and even alienates us from other people, that’s a sure sign that we’re off track. And when we actually descend into hatred of others, even those we consider enemies, we’re not obeying the clear commandment of our Lord to love them.

And if our lives don’t have the mark of Jesus on them, if we’re not living like Jesus did, then we need to ask ourselves and above all ask God what’s wrong. To live like Jesus is to be concerned about living in the light of God’s kingdom and grace present in Jesus. We measure our lives by King Jesus and his kingdom, and nothing else.

If anything gets in the way of any of this, we can be sure it’s darkness.

Something of what John might say to us today from this passage.

to those against us

“Here’s another old saying that deserves a second look: ‘Eye for eye, tooth for tooth.’ Is that going to get us anywhere? Here’s what I propose: ‘Don’t hit back at all.’ If someone strikes you, stand there and take it. If someone drags you into court and sues for the shirt off your back, giftwrap your best coat and make a present of it. And if someone takes unfair advantage of you, use the occasion to practice the servant life. No more tit-for-tat stuff. Live generously.

“You’re familiar with the old written law, ‘Love your friend,’ and its unwritten companion, ‘Hate your enemy.’ I’m challenging that. I’m telling you to love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst. When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the supple moves of prayer, for then you are working out of your true selves, your God-created selves. This is what God does. He gives his best—the sun to warm and the rain to nourish—to everyone, regardless: the good and bad, the nice and nasty. If all you do is love the lovable, do you expect a bonus? Anybody can do that. If you simply say hello to those who greet you, do you expect a medal? Any run-of-the-mill sinner does that.

“In a word, what I’m saying is, Grow up. You’re kingdom subjects. Now live like it. Live out your God-created identity. Live generously and graciously toward others, the way God lives toward you.”

Matthew 5:38-48; MSG

When someone seems against us, what does Jesus tell us to do? Pray. We humbly go on serving in love. But I like what is said first:

When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the supple moves of prayer…

We need that space ourselves. Instead of reacting and responding in kind, we hold back. We pray for them. And in that act of praying God moves in the situation: in us and in them.

And we humbly do good. That’s how real love is expressed according to Scripture.

God will help us as we prayerfully endeavor to step in this direction. From an angry, hard heart, to a softened heart. It might take some time, but we need to pray. And then act accordingly, which a lot of times is not to act much at all, but carry on in our tasks. And help that person in whatever ways we can. In and through Jesus.

addendum to preparation for martyrdom

“When people realize it is the living God you are presenting and not some idol that makes them feel good, they are going to turn on you, even people in your own family. There is a great irony here: proclaiming so much love, experiencing so much hate! But don’t quit. Don’t cave in. It is all well worth it in the end. It is not success you are after in such times but survival. Be survivors! Before you’ve run out of options, the Son of Man will have arrived.

“A student doesn’t get a better desk than her teacher. A laborer doesn’t make more money than his boss. Be content—pleased, even—when you, my students, my harvest hands, get the same treatment I get. If they call me, the Master, ‘Dungface,’ what can the workers expect?

“Don’t be intimidated. Eventually everything is going to be out in the open, and everyone will know how things really are. So don’t hesitate to go public now.

“Don’t be bluffed into silence by the threats of bullies. There’s nothing they can do to your soul, your core being. Save your fear for God, who holds your entire life—body and soul—in his hands.”

Matthew 10:21-28; MSG

I’m not one to write on martyrdom as I did yesterday. It was an honest thought, but one I feel is way over my head. Of course anytime we write about the things of God and Christ, it’s indeed over our head, given to us only by God’s grace through the Holy Spirit.

In Matthew 10 in Jesus’s sending out of the Twelve we have what I think is helpful for us Christians, even today. Yes, we’re not the apostles, not the original disciples, and there’s much that’s different now. We’re essentially a witness in our communities, as the church and individuals of the church. And we witness to Christ, yes to the salvation Christ brings. And that gospel and salvation is not only about the good news of God’s grace in Jesus, but also the good news of God’s kingdom in Jesus. Both. Our light shines in the darkness, and oftentimes the darkness will try to snuff it out, put the light out, but ultimately through Christ that light will prevail. Even on some scale the light that enlightens everyone in the world (John 1). But the light of the good news of Christ is the main point here.

Grace and humility. None of us is able to even follow Christ on our own, much less be in danger and even worse in doing so. We’re not to run into the teeth of danger, as if that’s nothing. We should do what we can to avoid it, wise as serpents, yet harmless as doves. We should try to win over our enemies, love them, knowing that the same grace which has captured us can capture them. Think of Saul of Tarsus.

So it’s not like we want to run headlong into trouble, nor that we can take this on ourselves. But if we can’t avoid it at a particular time, God will be with us by the Spirit to help us in our speech and actions. This is certainly far beyond us, we can’t do it ourselves. But we can know for certain that God helps us with whatever we’re facing, no matter how difficult that may be.

Well, hopefully some balancing words with the post yesterday. A difficult subject. And let me add one more thing. The vast majority of Christians on different sides of the political spectrum here in the United States are not at all desirous to do anyone harm. Quite the opposite. And there is concern of coming trouble on all sides. That said, I think we have to stay true to the witness we have in Christ. One that again is not only about personal salvation, but also about the witness of Scripture from the prophets and elsewhere about the kingdom of God fulfilled and now even present in King Jesus.

peacemaking and persecution

Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Matthew 5:9-12

At the end of what has often been called the Beatitudes, Jesus possibly juxtaposes two thoughts side by side which are related, but at odds with each other.

How can you be a peacemaker, yet be on the short end, indeed experiencing violence? Enter the world of Jesus.

Jesus was indeed a peacemaker, from Scripture we say by the blood of his cross, and that’s for sure. He took human wrath on himself to end human wrath. We say God’s wrath, but I would prefer to say God’s wrath against evil. God in judgment took the wrath of humankind on himself there at the cross, to end it once for all. And peacemakers following Jesus indeed need to point this out.

Peacemaking as Jesus was describing it here definitely was related to the forgiveness of sins and reconciliation later established by the cross. For us on the ground now it’s a matter of promoting peace on God’s terms, the peace of the kingdom established in Jesus. It is a peace grounded in faith and allegiance to King Jesus, and a peace based on his teaching and life. Made possible again through his death. We can’t do this on our own.

But even when we are people of peace, the peace spoken of here, that doesn’t mean we don’t end up becoming victims of war, violent opposition, violence in one form or another (Psalm 120). Certainly in being cursed, verbal violence, but sometimes suffering physical persecution. For us in the United States, this seems remote, of another world for good reason. We rarely if ever face one such incident of actual physical persecution during our lifetime. That probably speaks more of the society in which we live, but I wonder if we were more faithful in following Christ if we would see some incidents of it.

Is our persecution really because of righteousness and what is just, as well as for Christ? A good test might be if we’re truly becoming peacemakers in the way of Christ. Otherwise the “persecution” we experience might indeed need to be put in quotes, more about ourselves and our offenses, and less if at all about the offense of Jesus.

Would that life would be this black and white. Unfortunately there are times when it is partly our fault. We may not understand why, it may be nothing blatant or known on our part. Then there are the times we stumble and know better. Ironically those end up easier for us to make peace by simply asking for forgiveness. The other times, we know that somehow our weakness might be in play, but we have knowingly done nothing wrong.

It is hard to know what to do. To be as wise as serpents, but harmless as doves is surely something we need to be considering here. But we may just have to take what persecution comes our way, hopefully God doing a work for good in the one persecuting us, so that they might repent and change due to the love of God present even through us, in and through Jesus.