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 does love look like?

…the fruit of the Spirit is love…

Galatians 5:22

Let all that you do be done in love.

1 Corinthians 16:14

For the follower and followers of Christ, the fruit of the Spirit is love. The special love of God in and through Jesus is given to us by the Spirit. That’s all good, but it has to be worked out where we live. And there’s something else key to keep in mind here.

Owe no one anything, except to love one another, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery; you shall not murder; you shall not steal; you shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.

Romans 13:8-10

Maybe a good question we can ask ourselves is something like this: What does love look like in this situation? Really in anything at all. What does love look like?

It doesn’t matter what other good we’re doing. It’s actually not good if love doesn’t accompany it, yes, if it’s not motivated by love (1 Corinthians 13). Love has to be down to earth. Love in the heart will work it’s way out. But often we don’t feel that love. But the Spirit of God in us followers of Christ will help us begin to know what to do, and just as important, what not to do.

Of course we’ll stumble along the way. We’ll catch ourselves falling back into our old ways, but hopefully before we violate love.

It’s good to keep in mind what the Biblical vision of active love is: To help the poor and the stranger, to care for the widow and the orphan. And in Jesus’s teaching it includes loving even our enemies. And loving each other.

I have to ask myself, is what I’m about to do an act of love or not? If I have any doubts at all, I shouldn’t do it. And the difficult matters that we have to deal with maybe have to be dealt in entirely different ways than we’ve done it in the past right up to the present times. Maybe we’re going to have to lean on God to help us find creative ways to deal with such problems in a way that at least is a sincere attempt to do it in love.

The love we’re talking about here is not the idea of “anything goes.” It’s instead God’s love that is for the true and highest good of all. It is love through and through. Regardless, whatever else people may think, if they consider our actions or words something other than love, than for the most part we’re going to have to stop dead in our tracks, take it all back, apologize, and start over. It’s better to be still and pray.

Love is active. Thoughts and prayers are not enough. Love must show up into the lives of others. Yes, in the hardest places where we don’t want to go, where our own thoughts and attitudes contradict this. Love must win there. The love that ultimately does win out for us all. In and through Jesus.

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

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

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

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

Matthew 21:12-14

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

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

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

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

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

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

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

Just something to consider.

what 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.

should we want to be liked by everyone?

Am I now seeking human approval or God’s approval? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still pleasing people, I would not be a servant of Christ.

Galatians 1:10; NRSVue

Paul’s words here are linked to his God-given authority as an apostle, the apostle to the gentiles, and the messenger of the gospel given to him. But what he is saying I take as connected to us since he tells us elsewhere to follow him as he follows Christ.

To dig deeper will bring up complexity, but on the face of it, the obvious answer to the question is no. We should not want to be liked by everyone. I’m not sure that all of us are to become all things to all people that we might win some which is what Paul said about himself. But in a secondary sense, yes, we do make ourselves a slave to all to win as many as possible in how we conduct ourselves in love to others in the world, including our enemies.

Jesus is Jesus and we have to be careful to thinking that there’s necessary direct application of everything he did for our practice. For example, Jesus evidently could see into people’s hearts in a way we can’t along with other examples. Jesus is God in the flesh, fully human, but even if living only as a human in his earthly existence, Jesus did so in a completely full way toward the Father, unlike us.

That said, I believe Jesus turning over the tables of the money changers in the temple precinct during Holy Week is an example for us to follow of not passive resistance to injustice, but active (helpful podcast with Jason Porterfield). Was Jesus making friends and influencing people when he did that? That was a part of the reason he was crucified. On Tuesday of Holy Week pronouncing woes of warning and sorrow to the Pharisees and not mincing words certainly wasn’t going to make those who already disliked him among the Pharisees change their minds. And possibly added a few more to that list.

We all like to like others and be liked. And someday when God’s love is the atmosphere in which all live and breathe, that will indeed be the case. But now in this darkness it’s inevitable that some will dislike us. Which could result even in death and for some does. Even though some seemingly do that dispassionately in the name of their religion or ideology.

At any rate, we as followers of Christ should work at loving everyone, even if we have to say something along the way which might be hard for them to hear or receive. We want to do everything in love, in love for God and for others. We need to learn to look past other’s faults and affronts against us and see the good, God’s image in them, and seek to love, even like them. That is an ongoing challenge in itself, but part of our calling. But for now, we can cast aside any thought that everyone is going to like us. In fact, given everything in this evil age, we really would not want that to be the case.

God will help us in this, and that together. In and through Jesus.

pray and love, love and pray (the theme I keep returning to)

The end of all things is near; therefore be serious and discipline yourselves for the sake of your prayers. Above all, maintain constant love for one another, for love covers a multitude of sins.

1 Peter 4:7-8; NRSVue

I keep coming back to the same theme again and again: Love and pray; pray and love. I have often thought I would enjoy or at least appreciate being a part of a monastic (married) order. The idea is not just here and there, now and then practice of this and that, but a regular communal practice of scripture readings, prayers, and partaking of Communion together. That is not likely, so I try to practice it faithfully when it’s offered with others, as well as in my own practice. I am thankful for the newish Mennonite hymnal, Voices Together, which has a helpful morning and evening office in the back which keeps me in scripture, and in regular prayer.

I see the world at a dangerous place, maybe a precarious tipping point. Climate change with catastrophic consequences ahead if it’s not addressed forthrightly, the widening gap between the rich and the poor, racial injustice in the United States and in many other places in the world, an attack on democracy by an authoritarian rule which is even cloaked with the name “Christian” and is often ardently supported by Christians in a deadly and idolatrous union of church and state, and I’m sure there are numerous other concerns that deserve attention. You may not agree with all I list here, or you might see things somewhat differently. What we will agree on is that these are difficult times.

First of all we have to make sure that we’re aspiring to be followers of Christ. Christian is not enough, and especially with ties to a Christendom which fails to see the radical nature and difference of Christ and Christ’s kingdom in this world. While we hope and pray for the best of each nation in which we live, our citizenship and allegiance is elsewhere. We are citizens of anything in this world in a loose, secondary sense. We pay taxes and give due honor and respect and want to contribute to what is good, but as aliens.

I think of those younger: children and grandchildren. What they will be left with. Yes, people like to remind us all the time that “God is in control,” but remember that God lets people have the consequences of their ways. What is important for us who name the name of Christ is to really be led by the Spirit as Christ followers. The fruit of the Spirit evident in our lives.

And what more can we do than love and pray? Good works must follow, or our prayer and love will be empty, hollow, or at least not as full as it needs to be.

As is pointed out in the passage above, this requires self-discipline on our part along with a maintaining of constant love in the community, an attitude with corresponding actions supporting both. What I want to be about, growing in that, whatever else I think. Not letting up and seeking to live that out with others. 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.

the nonsense of the end justifying the means

In everything do to others as you would have them do to you, for this is the Law and the Prophets.

Matthew 7:12; NRSVue

Do to others as you would have them do to you.

Luke 6:31; NRSVue

The contexts are different for this essentially same saying of Jesus. In Luke as part of the Sermon on the Plain it’s in the context of difficult relationships or lack thereof. Whereas in Matthew in the Sermon on the Mount (two similar sermons) it’s almost a separate saying from what surrounds it (it seems to me that it is). And therefore we can say, connected to all of life.

We’re never going to be perfect in anything we do in this life. That’s an impossibility given a number of factors, although of course God’s work in and out from us itself is perfect, all pure love. But our intent must be perfect. And for that to be so, the end never justifies the means.

In the name of Christ, “Christians” have gone to war over the centuries, and so-called Christian causes, steeped in some form of Christendom are engaged in using a lot of un-Christ-like, essentially antichrist ways of supposedly achieving it. Of course what you accomplish won’t be good if the way you accomplished it was bad.

Jesus showed us the better way. We should pay no attention to that done in his name which doesn’t line up all the way with that way, with the Way himself, Jesus. It’s the way of the cross, of self-sacrificial love. Done in the Spirit; we can do it by the Spirit. In and through Christ, that is what is laid out before us, indeed given to us to live and walk in. Love for all in all we do. That certainly will involve confession of sin and repentance along the way as we inevitably fall short. But as individuals and the church, that is the only way in the Way, Jesus. Doing to others as we would have them do to us. Tough love a small minority of the time, yes, we all need that. But by and large, gentle. But always love, through and through. 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.