faith must work to work

What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,” and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.

But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I by my works will show you my faith. You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder. Do you want to be shown, you senseless person, that faith apart from works is barren? Was not our ancestor Abraham justified by works when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was brought to completion by the works. Thus the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness,” and he was called the friend of God. You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. Likewise, was not Rahab the prostitute also justified by works when she welcomed the messengers and sent them out by another road? For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is also dead.

James 2:14-26

We can say we have faith in God, in God’s promises, and that’s all well and good. But it won’t make the needed difference unless we act on it. The difference certainly refers to others. In James’s words here, helping the sister or brother in need, or with reference to Rahab, for one’s own family as well as for Rahab herself. What I’m especially referring to here is one’s own salvation. When we experience that salvation, or in the words in this passage, justification, we naturally want to see everyone else experience the same. But when we’re struggling with a lack in being settled into that in our spirits, ourselves, then we can’t see our way to really have that same longing for others.

What is absolutely essential in a sense is being willing to burn all bridges down behind us, so that there’s no turning back, but that our faith is expressed in action. If we say we believe something, then we have to act on that, or in the words of James, our faith is barren, even dead.

Abraham is the stark case in point here. He was asked to sacrifice his son no less, Isaac, on an altar he would have to prepare himself as a whole burnt offering to God. Certainly a mind boggling, simply unfathomable thing to ask of someone, at least in our world. In Abraham’s world, from what I’ve read, it may not have been as shocking. We read elsewhere that Abraham reasoned that God could raise Isaac from the dead if need be to fulfill God’s promise that through Abraham and his seed Isaac, Abraham would become the father of many nations, heir of the world, and that all nations would be blessed through him (Hebrews 11:19; Romans 4:13, 17; Galatians 3:8). Just the same, it couldn’t have been easy.

But as we see in Genesis 22, there’s no hesitation to fulfill what God commanded. Maybe there was something in Abraham’s mind, like, “Let’s get this over with.” We don’t know what precisely was in his mind, except as mentioned above, because Scripture doesn’t tell us. But Abraham went all the way with no hesitation, hard as that had to have been. And raising the knife was stopped by the angel of the Lord before plunging the knife into his beloved son, the son who was to be heir, and through whom God’s blessing was to be extended to all.

James is telling us that we’re to have this same kind of faith. We either do it, and that includes the hard thing which maybe at the time makes no sense to us. But we do so in obedience to God, resting on God’s promise of blessing and good. In and through Jesus.

reading Scripture differently

He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.

Luke 24:25-27

They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?”

Luke 24:32

There is no doubt that we need the Spirit of God, Christ himself to give us clarity and understanding when we’re reading Scripture. Otherwise we won’t get it the way God wants us to get it. Something of that was going on here, no doubt. But also Jesus was surely teaching his disciples what the church has learned at least in the best of its tradition to do: Read Scripture, specifically the Old Testament, but all of Scripture in light of Christ and the fulfillment he brings. Otherwise we’ll tend to see it primarily through our own cultural lens. First and foremost we must see all of Scripture through the revelation which Christ brings.

But add to this, we as Christians can differ in how we read Scripture in another basic way. We can fall into what I think is the error of practically seeing Scripture as an end in itself, and miss out to a significant extent on its main point: the gospel, the good news fulfilled in Christ. Some make such an important matter out of an inerrant view of Scripture that they think Scripture depends on that being the case. But what Scripture actually depends on is the truth and reality centered in Jesus, in the gospel, in the truth of the resurrection. All hinges on that. Of course there’s much we can and should glean from the parts of Scripture, without losing sight of the whole, and the point of it.

We also need to read Scripture in the light God gives us elsewhere: in science, culture, from wherever that light may come. That doesn’t nullify a word in Scripture one iota. But it does help us understand its own historical context. And to see how Scripture points us to something which is above and beyond such contexts, yet can still be played out within any setting.

What is most important for us is that we seek to remain in Scripture, intent in believing and obeying God, intent in following Christ with others through the gospel.

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.

addendum to “off the thrill ride”

Yesterday I simply made the point that we need to beware lest something we’re engaged in is giving us a satisfaction and even exhilaration when in fact it may not be the best or most healthy thing for us or others. Many things in this world can fit that category and the result can be what amounts to addictions and really too, just plain old fashioned idolatry.

Instead, I was suggesting that we need to settle in to simply the point Ecclesiastes makes at the end of that book. Fear God, and keep his commandments. Knowing that everything we do is under God’s scrutiny and ultimate judgment.

I do not want to be disrespectful, nor come across that way. The title, “off the thrill ride” may seem disrespectful, and if I had to do it all over again, I would have used a different more toned down title. The Teacher (or Quester- The Message) was able to try everything, and not only did he try it, but he gave it all he had, became fully immersed in it. You name it, he pretty much did it. But when it was all said and done, he was left high and dry, seeing it all as “meaningless,” or empty in the end. At least not delivering much bang for the buck.

Most all of us, certainly I included have been on a similar ride. We think we need this or that, even if that really goes against what Scripture tells us, and especially what Jesus taught, along with those who followed him. We think we know better, or at least behave like that. When in fact, we don’t.

We may feel that what we’re doing is for the good of others, and that may well be our intent. But is it within the category of fearing God and keeping God’s commandments? When we’re doing it, are we really following Christ, obeying his commandments? That is something we need to prayerfully ask ourselves and seek to discern with others.

I think most people today are caught up in some of what’s happening more in theory than in practice. We all need to examine what we’re thinking, because sooner or later, we’ll act on it. And that includes all of us. We can all be on a “thrill ride,” each and everyone of us, which is not helpful. Even in our supposedly righteous response to what we think is wrong. Not to say that in following Christ there isn’t something we should be doing to do justice, while we love mercy and seek to walk humbly with God.

We’ll actually find our true selves, and the real life when we learn to make following Christ our primary endeavor. Everything else secondary to that. In and through Jesus.

off the thrill ride

What do people gain from all their labors
at which they toil under the sun?
Generations come and generations go,
but the earth remains forever.
The sun rises and the sun sets,
and hurries back to where it rises.
The wind blows to the south
and turns to the north;
round and round it goes,
ever returning on its course.
All streams flow into the sea,
yet the sea is never full.
To the place the streams come from,
there they return again.
All things are wearisome,
more than one can say.
The eye never has enough of seeing,
nor the ear its fill of hearing.
What has been will be again,
what has been done will be done again;
there is nothing new under the sun.
Is there anything of which one can say,
“Look! This is something new”?
It was here already, long ago;
it was here before our time.
No one remembers the former generations,
and even those yet to come
will not be remembered
by those who follow them.

Ecclesiastes 1:3-11

Now all has been heard;
here is the conclusion of the matter:
Fear God and keep his commandments,
for this is the duty of all humankind.
For God will bring every deed into judgment,
including every hidden thing,
whether it is good or evil.

Ecclesiastes 12:13-14

We live in a precarious time. There is no end to the easy, frankly Gnostic-like answers out there, swallowed hook, line and sinker by too many Christians. The deception is great, and given all the factors involved, there’s no easy way out.

Again and again we have to return to the basics. Nothing titillating, or ground shaking. After the book of Ecclesiastes takes us through the long litany of empty human endeavor and pretensions, it lands where we need to all land and stop. In the simple fear of God and keeping of God’s commandments. Nothing more, nothing less.

Only then will the true sky open up in God’s time. Not something of either our own, or some diabolical invention. In and through Jesus.

addendum to “off the thrill ride” which hopefully gives some needed balance, as well as makes it clear that the title meant no disrespect.

start where you’re at

“Joseph son of David…”

Matthew 1:20

2020 has been a most challenging years on so many levels. It’s hard to know where to begin, and what has happened this year has difficult as well as maybe some hopeful implications for what’s to come.

For us in Jesus, there’s always hope. Of course the hope we have is in Jesus, the Messiah of the world, our Lord and Savior, and God’s promise of a new world beginning now, to come to completion someday at his return.

There’s hope, as I just said, even in the here and now. Joseph was an obscure, humble man. He happened to be in the family line of David, but I’ll bet no one around him would have imagined that. Joseph’s story in the gospels, and particularly in this account is wonderful to consider. Mary was the mother of our Lord, but Joseph, who accepted Jesus as his son (see NIV heading) went through quite a lot himself, and I must say, admirably.

The “holy family” as they’re called in tradition: Jesus, Mary and Joseph was certainly if not quite looked down on, at least looked at with sideways glances, people wondering to each other just what was being hidden. Although it appeared obvious to anyone that there was a coverup of what was morally wrong. But Mary and Joseph pressed on. They continued on faithful, regardless.

But back to Joseph. He was certainly just one person, and seemingly of little or no consequence. But God took him where he was at, and even with what was not understood by others, and included him in a most important work by God.

God can and wants to do the same with each of us followers of Jesus. We’re “in” the greater David, Jesus. It doesn’t matter where we’re starting, or for that matter even where we end as far as appearances, or what the world may think. The important thing is faith and obedience. Learning to humbly follow and do whatever God asks of us. Yes, in difficult times, even through the darkest of times. God will be with us to not only see us through, but make us a blessing. In and through Jesus.

Jesus is with us. are we with him?

“I am the Real Vine and my Father is the Farmer. He cuts off every branch of me that doesn’t bear grapes. And every branch that is grape-bearing he prunes back so it will bear even more. You are already pruned back by the message I have spoken.

“Live in me. Make your home in me just as I do in you. In the same way that a branch can’t bear grapes by itself but only by being joined to the vine, you can’t bear fruit unless you are joined with me.

“I am the Vine, you are the branches. When you’re joined with me and I with you, the relation intimate and organic, the harvest is sure to be abundant. Separated, you can’t produce a thing. Anyone who separates from me is deadwood, gathered up and thrown on the bonfire. But if you make yourselves at home with me and my words are at home in you, you can be sure that whatever you ask will be listened to and acted upon. This is how my Father shows who he is—when you produce grapes, when you mature as my disciples.

“I’ve loved you the way my Father has loved me. Make yourselves at home in my love. If you keep my commands, you’ll remain intimately at home in my love. That’s what I’ve done—kept my Father’s commands and made myself at home in his love.

“I’ve told you these things for a purpose: that my joy might be your joy, and your joy wholly mature. This is my command: Love one another the way I loved you. This is the very best way to love. Put your life on the line for your friends. You are my friends when you do the things I command you. I’m no longer calling you servants because servants don’t understand what their master is thinking and planning. No, I’ve named you friends because I’ve let you in on everything I’ve heard from the Father.

“You didn’t choose me, remember; I chose you, and put you in the world to bear fruit, fruit that won’t spoil. As fruit bearers, whatever you ask the Father in relation to me, he gives you.

“But remember the root command: Love one another.”

John 15:1-17; MSG

Christ’s words to his disciples echo to us today. We often want to do much for our Lord, even out of love, so we give it our best effort and inevitably fall short. It seems here that Jesus is telling us that a first priority is to be at home in organic, intimate relationship with him. I really like how Eugene Peterson puts it. And this is both an individual and communal endeavor. Jesus talks about individual branches which bear no fruit, but is talking to his disciples as branches on the same plant, who are to love each other.

I think oftentimes God lets us have success, but then the well dries up because we have something more to learn, at least better. This is a lesson from our Lord he gave his disciples in the Upper Room Discourse the night before his crucifixion. It was and we can say is something close to our Lord’s heart, something he practiced in relation with the Father, and wants us to practice in relation with him.

Too often we tend to downplay relationships in our emphasis for doing, getting the job done. I know that all too well in my many years it turned out to be, in factory work. At this late time for me, I’m learning more the importance of relationships, working with people whose ethnic practice is much more relational and communal, even though they work quite hard as well.

It’s not like what we do doesn’t matter, and won’t help in God’s good grace. But it’s more like a little bit from our communion with Christ will go much farther, and be much more potent than all our efforts all day.

So it seems like first things first, we need to focus on our union and communion, indeed on our relationship with Christ. Of course it’s only in and through him that we have that relationship at all, through his life, death and resurrection, and by the Spirit through his ascension.

If we’re at an impasse, maybe we just need to stop dead in our tracks. And seek to draw near to God. Jesus already makes his home in us. We’re to make our home in him. So maybe for us for a time it won’t be a matter of doing, but just trying to settle into our friendship with him, loving each other, as he taught us. Knowing that the fruit, good things will inevitably come out of that. But learning to settle in and be settled in that.

the high cost of not trusting God

When the people realized that Moses was taking forever in coming down off the mountain, they rallied around Aaron and said, “Do something. Make gods for us who will lead us. That Moses, the man who got us out of Egypt—who knows what’s happened to him?”

God spoke to Moses, “Go! Get down there! Your people whom you brought up from the land of Egypt have fallen to pieces. In no time at all they’ve turned away from the way I commanded them: They made a molten calf and worshiped it. They’ve sacrificed to it and said, ‘These are the gods, O Israel, that brought you up from the land of Egypt!’”

God said to Moses, “I look at this people—oh! what a stubborn, hard-headed people! Let me alone now, give my anger free reign to burst into flames and incinerate them. But I’ll make a great nation out of you.”

Moses tried to calm his God down. He said, “Why, God, would you lose your temper with your people? Why, you brought them out of Egypt in a tremendous demonstration of power and strength. Why let the Egyptians say, ‘He had it in for them—he brought them out so he could kill them in the mountains, wipe them right off the face of the Earth.’ Stop your anger. Think twice about bringing evil against your people! Think of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, your servants to whom you gave your word, telling them ‘I will give you many children, as many as the stars in the sky, and I’ll give this land to your children as their land forever.’”

And God did think twice. He decided not to do the evil he had threatened against his people.

Moses turned around and came down from the mountain, carrying the two tablets of The Testimony. The tablets were written on both sides, front and back. God made the tablets and God wrote the tablets—engraved them.

When Moses came near to the camp and saw the calf and the people dancing, his anger flared. He threw down the tablets and smashed them to pieces at the foot of the mountain. He took the calf that they had made, melted it down with fire, pulverized it to powder, then scattered it on the water and made the Israelites drink it.

Moses said to Aaron, “What on Earth did these people ever do to you that you involved them in this huge sin?”

Exodus 32:1, 7-16, 19-21; MSG

This is one of those passages you don’t know what to do with, which I imagine is not in the lexicons for reading in the church, although I’m not sure. Jesus said that anyone who saw him saw the Father. Jesus is the revelation of God. All that proceeded that was somehow preparatory. There does need to be a certain kind of fear, reverence and awe of God. Not only the First/Old Testament makes that clear, but so does the Second/New. But God reveals God’s heart for the world in the Son, in Jesus, in Jesus’s Incarnation, life, ministry in teaching and healing in the arrival of God’s kingdom to earth, in Jesus’s death and resurrection, ascension with the pouring out of the Holy Spirit, with the promise of his return. At the cross in Jesus’s death we see God’s love for the world, for everyone. You get glimmers of that same love throughout the First/Old Testament, but only in Jesus, and especially in his death do we see it uncovered, on full display.

We’re also told in the New/Second Testament that whatever was written for us in the past, that is in the First/Old Testament, was written to us, the church, for our instruction and as warnings. We have to take all of it to heart, if we’re going to read Scripture faithfully according to what it tells us. We can see for sure in the above passage (click to read it in its fuller context) that God’s people paid an awful price for not trusting God. We can certainly draw from that, we too are both susceptible, and will suffer the consequences when we fail to trust God.

I tend to think that God was acting this way in significant part to bring Moses to the point Moses needed to be as leader of God’s people. Maybe there was something lacking in Moses, and therefore God in God’s wisdom was working to make him more the person and leader he needed to be.

Back to the main point. It’s easy to think something like, “Well, I’ll take matters in my own hands right now, because I just have to. Just for now, because I just have to. But I’ll do better afterwards. I’ll quit doing this.” But when we do that, and seemingly solve the problem ourselves, the loss of not trusting in God lingers, and does not easily dissipate.

We’re talking both about a relationship and even idolatry. God want us in relationship with him through Christ. And God wants us to trust him completely. How we do that is given to us in the pages of Scripture. To trust in anything other than God, or in place of God amounts to idolatry. Something I’m working on in my own life. And trying to do so not just by myself, but in community with other followers who are committed to the same. In and through Jesus.

we do not ultimately obey the Bible, but a person

You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.

John 5:39-40

Related to yesterday’s post, it is the Lord himself who is ultimately over all things, including Scripture itself. It might be a good start to seek to obey the words of Scripture, after all, at least many of us Protestants call them the written word of God. All Scripture is certainly God-breathed in a unique way, given to us for our salvation, and for all of life.

But they point to Christ, point us to Christ. For us as followers of Christ, I would say for me as a wannabe follower of Christ, we need to listen for the voice of the Lord. If we learn this, then Scripture might just start jumping off the pages at us.

Of course this is all played out in real life. All the hit and miss, violence often done verbally, the downright struggle that we’re often in. It is no paradise here. I think of Jesus’s motely crew of disciples. I would fit in well if they were more or less misfits. So am I.

All the more reason why we need to listen for the voice of Christ, yes in Scripture, along with all of life, both. And seek to respond. It’s much more than conforming our lives according to words, even if we believe it’s God’s word written. We have to respond to all such as responding not just to a book, but to a person. In and through Jesus.

trusting God moment by moment

For the director of music. For Jeduthun. A psalm of David.

Truly my soul finds rest in God;
my salvation comes from him.
Truly he is my rock and my salvation;
he is my fortress, I will never be shaken.

How long will you assault me?
Would all of you throw me down—
this leaning wall, this tottering fence?
Surely they intend to topple me
from my lofty place;
they take delight in lies.
With their mouths they bless,
but in their hearts they curse.

Yes, my soul, find rest in God;
my hope comes from him.
Truly he is my rock and my salvation;
he is my fortress, I will not be shaken.
My salvation and my honor depend on God;
he is my mighty rock, my refuge.
Trust in him at all times, you people;
pour out your hearts to him,
for God is our refuge.

Surely the lowborn are but a breath,
the highborn are but a lie.
If weighed on a balance, they are nothing;
together they are only a breath.
Do not trust in extortion
or put vain hope in stolen goods;
though your riches increase,
do not set your heart on them.

One thing God has spoken,
two things I have heard:
“Power belongs to you, God,
and with you, Lord, is unfailing love”;
and, “You reward everyone
according to what they have done.”

Psalm 62

It is one of the hardest yet most important things we can do, to seek to live in the moment in dependence on and rest in God. There are so many factors which make this challenging. We can be weighed down by past failure, present circumstances, and seemingly dim future prospects. Of course if we’re just looking at the troubles apart from faith, then we’re sure to be overcome with fear or whatever we do to deal with such situations ourselves. But when we turn to God with the determination to trust and obey in the moment by God’s grace just as the psalmist does, we’ll find God’s help. And hopefully we’ll become more and more steady, as we learn to find our rest in him. In and through Jesus.