the gospel and salvation is personal in more ways than one

He has told you, O mortal, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?

Micah 6:8

Most often in the Christian tradition I’ve been a part of for decades, the gospel and salvation is personal with reference to our individual relationship to God, and to each other. And that’s good insofar as it goes. But we need to take personally the entire vision God casts. Yes, we have only our small part in that, but it’s our God-given part, and therefore a gift fitting into the whole.

We have to take this personally where we live: among our loved ones, in our neighborhood, in the church, at work, and in the world beyond where we live. In the words of Micah: we’re to do justice, to love kindness and mercy, as we walk humbly with our God. Simple, yet profound.

This means we really do want to understand what is going on around us. If we’re part of a church and denomination involved in such with good works, we can be thankful, and we can learn a lot from them.

This is to become a part of who we are, as well as what we’re about. What we’re aspiring and learning to do day after day, week after week, and year after year. In and through Jesus.

opening up a new world: the place for “sanctified imagination”

“Have faith in God,” Jesus answered. “Truly I tell you, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in their heart but believes that what they say will happen, it will be done for them. Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.”

Mark 11:22-25

It is easy to live in ruts, to think it has always been this way and will be forevermore. To put limits on God. Jesus’s words are in the context of his entry into Jerusalem lauded as Messiah-King by those who did not understand that less than a week later this one they lauded would be nailed on a cross and would die. Along with that Jesus’s disciples’ worlds would be turned upside down, not to say that they weren’t already. Jesus’s time with them for some three years prior was meant to give them a completely new bearing and grounding beyond where they had lived for so long.

In this new world of sanctified imagination in the present in which I think the Lord would have us live in, there’s no escape from the way of the cross. That is the way we’re to take in love for all, in love of all enemies. But on the way and in the midst of that, we need to look to God for good things to come to pass in which we’ll usually play an important, even though ordinarily a humble and often misunderstood role.

Jesus seems to open the door for his disciples, for us here. Whatever we pray, of course in the Father’s will. Just as Jesus prayed for the Father’s will to be done, not his own will in the darkness hanging over him. We should look to God for new possibilities. And to answer in regard to the old problems which hamper us and others. God can and will answer as we persist in prayer. Faith that God is and will indeed open up a new world. To be completed when Jesus returns. But beginning even now. In and through Jesus.

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.

God meets us where we’re at

Passing along, Jesus saw a man at his work collecting taxes. His name was Matthew. Jesus said, “Come along with me.” Matthew stood up and followed him.

Later when Jesus was eating supper at Matthew’s house with his close followers, a lot of disreputable characters came and joined them. When the Pharisees saw him keeping this kind of company, they had a fit, and lit into Jesus’ followers. “What kind of example is this from your Teacher, acting cozy with crooks and misfits?”

Jesus, overhearing, shot back, “Who needs a doctor: the healthy or the sick? Go figure out what this Scripture means: ‘I’m after mercy, not religion.’ I’m here to invite outsiders, not coddle insiders.”

Matthew 9:9-13; MSG

God wants to meet us all where we’re at. We have to come to God just as we are to be accepted. I think of the great hymn, Just As I Am. We come to him with all of our sin, all of our troubles. We don’t pretend to be something we’re not, as if that will make us acceptable to God. Nor do we try to overcome our troubles by ourselves. Coming to God involves trusting God to answer our prayers, to actually meet us where we are, and to do God’s needed work in us.

Matthew was as low can be in Jewish eyes of his day. Here was one of their own, doing work of the hated Romans, and siphoning extra for himself at their expense, making himself rich in the process. Jesus calls him right at his tax collector’s booth, and then eats with him and others like him. And of course gets called on the carpet for that by the religious leaders. What was missing for these leaders was the point of their religion: God’s mercy. For them, for all. 

I’m thankful I can keep returning to God again and again, not for who I wish I would be, or only when I feel good about life. But when I’m struggling, which honestly is at least a lot of the time, and when troubles are just a fact of life. God meets me there. Meets us all there, if we just come to God as we are. Even calls us, like Jesus did Matthew. In and through Jesus.

the way of peace found in Jesus

The way of peace they do not know;
there is no justice in their paths.

Isaiah 59:8a

And it’s clear enough, isn’t it, that we’re sinners, every one of us, in the same sinking boat with everybody else?

But in our time something new has been added. What Moses and the prophets witnessed to all those years has happened. The God-setting-things-right that we read about has become Jesus-setting-things-right for us. And not only for us, but for everyone who believes in him.

Romans 3:19b,21-22a; MSG

Justice and the peace that comes from that is often the emphasis we hear from younger Christians nowadays. And for many good reasons. For one thing, the gospel often proclaimed and taught in evangelical circles is mostly about our own relationship with God and with others. That is truth, and very needed, and certainly does not exclude teaching about what is just and right, true and good, merciful and bringing peace. But it’s not the entire truth or application of the gospel.

There does need to be an emphasis on justice in society, not just personal righteousness which supposedly brings the needed justice. There is a needed reckoning within the world system to judge and root out, yes, systemic evil. With reference to racial injustice, and many other evils in the world. So this instinct and passion within and active in the younger generations should be welcomed and appreciated.

What we have to be careful of is getting the cart before the horse. Justice in itself is not the point nor the goal, not for the Christian. Jesus and God’s good news of grace and the kingdom come in him is the proper focus. That brings the necessary judgment on evil to be replaced by what is truly the good, flourishing life for humans, for all humanity. 

The emphasis therefore needs to be on Jesus, on God in the human Jesus, the Spirit’s amen and work from that, and the difference that can make, yes, even in this world. In challenging all the injustice, and beginning to see the new world emerge among us. And we shouldn’t fail to mention that it is through nothing short of the blood of Jesus, his death, so that all evil was absorbed into that day on Jesus. So that evil is now dealt with in the truly Christian way through Jesus’s death on the cross. The new life through his resurrection, following.

Not to say that God isn’t at work through some ways in the world which though we would say ultimately is through Jesus and God’s work in him, is not actually linked to that. Indeed that may well be. But the unique way in Jesus in the love for one’s enemies and the way of the cross is at the forefront of what God’s justice looks like. It is tempered with mercy, and brings in the needed full salvation beginning even now. In our lives, but breaking into earthly principalities and powers, high places where this is not only known, but opposed. Even though that’s ongoing on this side of time. Not for the faint of heart, but part of our calling. In and through Jesus.

a justified life

What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.

But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.”

Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds. You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.

You foolish person, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless[a]? Was not our father Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. And the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,”[b] and he was called God’s friend. You see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone.

In the same way, was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction? As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.

James 2:14-26

The evidence that we’re in Christ and his followers will be a changed life of love for God and for our neighbor by good works, the things we do. A justified life is living out God’s mercy in the world. We hope for justice as well, that is addressing wrongs and making things right even in this life. Christ took on himself all the injustice humans could possibly give him through the cross. Ironically in that way God’s justice could break through beginning in the lives of his followers, and out from them into the world. But always in the same way of Jesus, the way of love in the cross.

A justified life certainly involves both faith and works. Only God can set us on this path as we respond in faith and baptism to his calling. Like Abraham and Rahab, and all the faithful, we need to respond in faith. That will certainly involve a change of life, and along with that, the new course God gives us. In and through Jesus.

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.

 

 

realism and relief from the Psalms

For the director of music. With stringed instruments. A maskil of David.

Listen to my prayer, O God,
do not ignore my plea;
hear me and answer me.
My thoughts trouble me and I am distraught
because of what my enemy is saying,
because of the threats of the wicked;
for they bring down suffering on me
and assail me in their anger.

My heart is in anguish within me;
the terrors of death have fallen on me.
Fear and trembling have beset me;
horror has overwhelmed me.
I said, “Oh, that I had the wings of a dove!
I would fly away and be at rest.
I would flee far away
and stay in the desert;
I would hurry to my place of shelter,
far from the tempest and storm.”

Lord, confuse the wicked, confound their words,
for I see violence and strife in the city.
Day and night they prowl about on its walls;
malice and abuse are within it.
Destructive forces are at work in the city;
threats and lies never leave its streets.

If an enemy were insulting me,
I could endure it;
if a foe were rising against me,
I could hide.
But it is you, a man like myself,
my companion, my close friend,
with whom I once enjoyed sweet fellowship
at the house of God,
as we walked about
among the worshipers.

Let death take my enemies by surprise;
let them go down alive to the realm of the dead,
for evil finds lodging among them.

As for me, I call to God,
and the Lord saves me.
Evening, morning and noon
I cry out in distress,
and he hears my voice.
He rescues me unharmed
from the battle waged against me,
even though many oppose me.
God, who is enthroned from of old,
who does not change—
he will hear them and humble them,
because they have no fear of God.

My companion attacks his friends;
he violates his covenant.
His talk is smooth as butter,
yet war is in his heart;
his words are more soothing than oil,
yet they are drawn swords.

Cast your cares on the Lord
and he will sustain you;
he will never let
the righteous be shaken.
But you, God, will bring down the wicked
into the pit of decay;
the bloodthirsty and deceitful
will not live out half their days.

But as for me, I trust in you.

Psalm 55

I love the psalms in part because of their unflinching realism. The psalmists tell it like it is about their own experience, understanding, and faith. Of course it is part of God’s word, and gives us revelation concerning God and God’s will for humanity, and especially for God’s people, either directly, or more indirectly like in this passage.

This psalm is lively and stirring, and a bit of a head scratcher when comparing it to Jesus’s teaching, such as his command to love our enemies. But inherent here is the concern for justice to be served. We know the bigger picture now, Christ providing the means in which both justice and mercy together are fully revealed and offered to all.

I love how one of those precious promise verses appears in this passage. So good to see its context. And that can help us realize that whatever we’re up against (for us, not physical warfare, but spiritual), whatever we’re facing, God is present for us. That we can cast our cares completely on him, that God will see us through everything. In and through Jesus.

 

my thought (gathered from others and life) about the current distress

These times are days on edge for many. Yes, none of us want to get the coronavirus. And no one wants the economy to collapse. Untold suffering for many if the latter happens, surely with some deaths due to lack of medical attention or for other reasons. And likely more deaths if we don’t follow measures to contain the virus. There are no easy answers. And nothing easy about what needs to be done. And the division in the United States is surely deeper than ever in my lifetime.

Sometimes our reactions can be either worse than the problem, or no help at all, just making the situation worse, adding to the problem. I am thinking of the political divide. There’s no way to avoid being included in that even when we’re innocent and wanting to avoid it altogether. Or we may advocate for a position that happens to be more in line with one side or the other, not wanting to get involved in any war of words. I used to want to try to persuade others, but have come to see such an endeavor as naive. It likely does little if any good. There’s more at work than just words and rationality, and we can feel it in our own hearts in our reactions to postings online that we disagree with.

For us Christians, we need to applaud when we find any honest efforts to arrive at truth, or do good. And we need to ask questions when there seems to be a lack in either.

Above all, we need to be people of prayer. Present with others, whether we agree or not, whatever we might think. Trusting that God is somehow at work as we pray that truth, justice and mercy may prevail, with the full realization that this won’t entirely be the case before Christ returns. Until then we hold on to the word of life: the gospel, with the faith, hope and love that brings. In and through Jesus.

 

mercy triumphs over judgment

My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favoritism. Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in filthy old clothes also comes in. If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, “Here’s a good seat for you,” but say to the poor man, “You stand there” or “Sit on the floor by my feet,” have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?

Listen, my dear brothers and sisters: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who are exploiting you? Are they not the ones who are dragging you into court? Are they not the ones who are blaspheming the noble name of him to whom you belong?

If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing right. But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers. For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it. For he who said, “You shall not commit adultery,” also said, “You shall not murder.” If you do not commit adultery but do commit murder, you have become a lawbreaker.

Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment.

James 2:1-13

No matter how hard we might try, it’s easy to be critical of others. From someone cutting in front of you on the road to people not doing their work well to whatever else it might be, it’s easy to find fault.

James’s words here seem to indicate a lack of comprehension in simply misjudging others. Here it’s probably looking down on the poor while looking up at the rich. We put the rich on a pedestal thinking somehow they deserve their wealth and are a cut above the rest. And that the poor are poor for a reason. Sadly we don’t know the real stories, and we fail to factor in our own great need.

The point James makes here is that mercy is to prevail over judgment. That when it’s all said and done for us, we need to be extending mercy to others, not our good and even right judgment. In important part because we truly don’t know it all, and because we ourselves need that same mercy, yes, every day. The mercy that triumphs over judgment through the gospel. In and through Jesus.