a true friend tells the truth to help

Well meant are the wounds a friend inflicts,
but profuse are the kisses of an enemy.

Proverbs 27:6

Wounds from a friend can be trusted,
but an enemy multiplies kisses.

Proverbs 27:6; NIV

On the surface, there’s probably nothing worse than wounds from a friend. But if we can get past that, there’s probably actually nothing better.

Sometimes the only way truth and needed correction can get through to us is through a wounding. How that’s inflicted requires wisdom that is beyond us, or we could say also comes through long experience with God’s help. And it depends on each situation. And it’s not like we get it completely right in doing so. Maybe there’s wrong along with right in what is said, how it’s said. We need to be doing so always with the attempt to love. But love is not about making people feel good or in affirming their every thought and action. Not at all. If we do that, we’re not a good friend, in the true sense not a friend at all. But oftentimes it ends up being that we’re just not the friend they need. We may even be well meaning, but amiss. Love includes truth, what is right and just as well as good. So we need friends who hold us to that standard, and in turn we need to hold each other to the same.

But if we’re not regularly praying for someone, or not in prayer for them, then we should never attempt to correct them. And if we try to correct another, it should be done gently. Though maybe there’s a time for rebuke. We have to be careful not to see ourselves as more than we are, just another human in need of God’s grace, or to think we’re God’s spokes person. If we’re ever on the giving end of this, we should do so with much concern, in prayer, ready for God’s correction of us. And seeking to love.

If we’re on the receiving end of it, of course that’s harder. But if we’re maturing in Christ, than we’ll seek to hear what good is there, what actually might be helpful for us. Ever mindful of our need to grow, of the reality that we have our blind spots as well. And that God intends for us to progress in the faith significantly through the give and take of each other.

All of this not easy, but the help we need. In and through Jesus.

do not worry about anything

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:4-7

There is plenty to worry and be anxious about, and to fret over in the world. In our own worlds, close to home, and expanding from there our own neighborhoods, area, nation where we live, and from there, the entire earth. There is plenty to be concerned about.

But what are we told here? We’re told that we who are in Christ Jesus are not to worry (or be anxious: NIV, with other translations) about anything. Instead as we seek to rejoice in the Lord always, and let our gentleness be known to all, we’re to pray, voicing our concerns to God, and asking God to take care of them. Giving thanks for God’s help before. And just trusting in and knowing the God to whom we’re praying. God will take care of it.

That doesn’t mean we’re not in the works of God’s answer. But it does mean that ultimately the answer never comes from us, or because of us, but only from God. God may use a mediary such as an angel. God often does use others, or some resource to help us.

And we need to bring concerns to God in prayer this way as our first priority when concerns arise or our present. And keep doing that over time. Some will be projects in process, while others need to be attended to and taken care of.

The big point I want to make in this post is that we’re not to worry about anything at all. Yes, we want to be aware of everything, though some things will escape our notice. We can pray to God about that as well, whatever we might be unaware of. Yes, we want to do the best we can. But we’re meant to depend on God to help us through not just some things, but everything. And God does not want us to be passive in that, but active. It’s not at all like, “Well, we’re not to worry about anything, so I just won’t pay attention to anything.” No. We’re to be fully engaged, but in all of that to worry about nothing, because we know God has our backs, and every side. And that God will take care of it.

We need to let this soak into our hearts. As we no longer worry, God helping us, then we’ll begin to experience that peace of God which surpasses all understanding, beyond that. What is meant to replace our worry is God’s peace. To guard our hearts and minds. God will take care of everything as we commit all to him. In and through Jesus.

why pray? what difference does it make?

You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, in order to spend what you get on your pleasures.

James 4:2b-3

Prayer is interesting. Religious leaders, even (I say from my tradition and background) Christian pastors often are notorious for acknowledging that they pray little at all. But then you can find just any person in the pews or out somewhere else who have made prayer a habit. You get these religious leaders praying over government leaders as if they’re prayers have unusual power. Etc. Interesting, the collage that can come from the idea of prayer, really from all over the world.

I am a believer in all kinds of prayer: formal, informal, spontaneous, set. I love it when prayer is just a natural expression of my heart by the Spirit, but most of the time, that’s simply not the case. Oftentimes for me prayer is appealing to God, but in a way which is kind of like trying to feel my way toward what might be good to pray. I like prayer books, and in the back of our hymnal, Voices Together, there’s a morning and evening office to help us praise, give thanks, confess our sins, and pray for ourselves and others, along with a number of other prayers. All of that is good, and can potentially develop us to more and more become people of prayer both together in community and for each of us as we go about our lives.

James makes it plain that all the infighting and problems in community were related both to the cravings at war in them, and the failure to pray to God. Along with false prayers in that they were done not for the real good God wants to give, but to fulfill their own self-centered wishes not moored in love for God and for others as one’s self (click link above to see context, and if you do, note the rendering of The Message). It’s not at all like we shouldn’t cry out to God about our own troubles and problems, because indeed we should. Notice so many of the psalms. But we do so as people intent on finding God’s own good answer, according to God’s will, truly for our good and the good of all around us.

James’s words are both an encouragement to us, as well as a challenge. Pray, pray, and keep on praying. And don’t forget that a vital part of prayer is seeking to listen to God. To find God’s will, not our own. To live in God’s goodness, a goodness meant for others along with ourselves. Blessed to be a blessing. In and through Jesus.

we need each other

And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

Hebrews 10:24-25

In our individualistic culture in which everyone is supposed to look out for and take care of themselves, the idea that we need each other, that we’re our brother and sister’s keeper is all but lost on us. That is not something enmeshed in my white, western culture, at least not where I’ve lived. In fact, I’m pretty certain we don’t believe this at all. We rarely even pay lip service to it. How many times have I heard the thought that the best church is out in nature somewhere by one’s self? And when people do gather together for church, it’s often just to get something out of the message for one’s self, maybe say hi to the few along the way or just the greeters, then head back home.

But Scripture calls us to something else, something we not only fail to practice, but that we’re not acclimated to in the first place, out of our comfort zone for sure. A commitment to each other in Jesus which plays itself out in regularly meeting together, and being ready at least potentially in our spirits to give and to receive. God actually wants to help us through each other no less. Not just directly, but through others.

If we’re followers of Christ and thus Christians not in name only, then we can’t escape God’s call to us to come together since after all we’re one body in Christ. There may be unusual times such as the past year with COVID-19 when we can’t gather in person in the same way as before. But technology did allow us to meet virtually. Yes, not a great substitute for meeting in person, but better than nothing, and some of us we’re able to talk face to face with people we otherwise never would have. Where there’s a will, there’s a way. At the same time, mercifully, such times are only temporary. We need to find the good in them and that can come out of them, and go on.

But we need to be committed to what alas seems more than a stretch to many: gathering together to worship, pray, and just be with each other. In that dynamic Jesus is present yes in and through each other, and there’s not a one of us who doesn’t need that.

leave no one behind

See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God…

Hebrews 12:15b

Make sure no one gets left out of God’s generosity.

Hebrews 12:15b; MSG

I wonder if we as Christians where I live and have lived for some time now really think and act like the writer to the Hebrews wants believers and the church to do. To leave no one behind.

Of course we can’t make anyone do anything. We’re in such great need ourselves, that to suppose we can somehow control others even for their good, is not even a good thought. What self-control we experience for ourselves is only a fruit of the Spirit.

That we’re all in need of God’s grace is exactly the point made in this passage (click above links for context). Much is involved in that, but in essence it’s about being present in love with each other, the love of God by the Spirit in Jesus. It’s being present for each other both in giving and receiving.

It seems to me that Eugene Peterson’s rendering is so helpful here, given the pastoral wisdom he had.

Work at getting along with each other and with God. Otherwise you’ll never get so much as a glimpse of God. Make sure no one gets left out of God’s generosity. Keep a sharp eye out for weeds of bitter discontent. A thistle or two gone to seed can ruin a whole garden in no time. Watch out for the Esau syndrome: trading away God’s lifelong gift in order to satisfy a short-term appetite. You well know how Esau later regretted that impulsive act and wanted God’s blessing—but by then it was too late, tears or no tears.

Hebrews 12:14-17; MSG

It’s all about being in this together. We can’t make it, or at least certainly cannot make it as well or well enough on our own.

And let this be especially true for those who are marginalized whom our Lord would welcome with open arms. Be it anyone of the LGBTQ+ community, the poor, those ethnicities and immigrants who struggle in a system which does not make room for them or even worse. We especially need to be attentive to all such, to have God’s help through the Spirit and with each other to be aware. Acknowledging that we too need the Lord’s help in this ministry of Christ’s body, ourselves.

This is the heart the Lord wants us to have for each other. The heart God has for each one of us, for everyone. In and through Jesus.

cut out the criticism and judgment

Do not speak evil against one another, brothers and sisters. Whoever speaks evil against another or judges another, speaks evil against the law and judges the law; but if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. There is one lawgiver and judge who is able to save and to destroy. So who, then, are you to judge your neighbor?

James 4:11-12

In this difficult to interpret (in my opinion) passage, we’re told in no uncertain terms to stop the judgment of others, indeed not even to criticize another. That hits close to home, because all too often we can be critical of each other, of those we live with day in and day out, who see the other’s weaknesses and sometimes eccentricities.

The passage makes the point that our business is to be intent in seeking to do what the law tells us to do, not to judge others as to whether or not they’re doing that. When we judge others, we actually end up distorting the law, because our judgment is so skewed, that it even fails to really understand the law, as well as failing to begin to understand our neighbor.

God alone is the judge. We are all subject only to God’s judgment. Our judgment is so off track, that it ends up making God’s law look bad. Only God knows perfectly and completely the true intent of the law. We are safe to say that it falls along the line of love for God and for one’s neighbor. And that being the case, we need to quit thinking we can judge others, but instead, if we see something that looks wrong from another, we should pray for them and for ourselves. Knowing that we too can be and all too often are caught up in either the same thing or something else that is off track.

An important heads up to me. In and through Jesus.

grace must mark everything

Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer everyone.

Colossians 4:6

Grace should mark all that we are and do. By grace I mean God’s grace in kindness; undeserved, unmerited favor; pure gift to us in Christ. We tend to accentuate the demands of life, what we and others are supposed to do, in biblical terms, “the law.” Of course what the law boils down to is simply loving God with all our being and doing, and loving our neighbor which includes our enemies, as ourselves. So love is the demand. And love is the given, I mean what we receive from God.

Because of God’s grace, gift to us in Christ, we are able to love God and neighbor in the way God desires. The Spirit within that grace enables us to actually do that, though certainly not bereft of our limitations and sins. But we confess them, learn from life, and go on.

And it’s essential that what we’re to experience ourselves, we apply to others. We need to double down in making sure that if we accept and want grace, we apply it to others all the more. Whatever may cause concern for ourselves can be an occasion to seek to apply grace to others, both through our prayers and through our lives in love to them.

So whatever little word we might think we need to say, if it’s smothered in grace, in God’s love, and with the wisdom that brings, either we might not say it or even have to, or else it will be seen as nothing but helpful, hopefully.

In and through Jesus.

peace of mind

Those of steadfast mind you keep in peace—
in peace because they trust in you.

Isaiah 26:3

Shalom is the transliteration of the Hebrew word translated “peace” which means more than inward tranquility and rest. As translations indicate and considering the context, here it could mean safety (NET), as well as the flourishing of humanity and creation. Peace of mind comes with the sense that all is taken care of, that all will be made well, and in the end be well as in whole, no longer broken.

I think in this life we have to hold on to promises like this, because so much seems in flux, unstable, threatening: undermining what is good. We certainly do need peace of mind, which is often the way this Scripture passage has been applied, even if that’s not its precise meaning. It certainly is included. And notice that it’s dependent on whether or not we trust in God. When we do, no matter what, God will give us God’s peace. This reminds me of another Scripture passage, Paul’s words to us:

Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:6-7

Notice that the promise here is not that everything will turn out just the way we like. We know better than that in this life. But that no matter what, God will be at work through our prayers is implied, with the promise that God’s peace which surpasses all understanding will guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. We need to hold on to this promise and not let go of our faith, putting that faith into practice by doing what Paul tells us to do here. God will always answer. According to our faith, it will be done for us. And God values our efforts, even though inevitably imperfect.

We know that in the new creation we’ll live in God’s care with no concerns whatsoever, whole and fully at peace in the love of God. But even in a world which is often turbulent and tearing at the seams, we can still have God’s peace. Yes, right in the midst of the storm. And in spite of so many things we wish would be different. Peace of heart and mind. 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.

carry each other’s burdens

Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.

Galatians 6:2

We’re told explicitly in at least two places in Scripture to cast our burdens on God. So why do we need to carry each other’s burdens? As one of the ladies leading our church, and who is studying for the pastorate likes to say, it’s maybe not a question of one or the other, but both. We need to be present for each other.

How can we do this? In the context (click link) it is about those who are led by the Spirit gently restoring another who has sinned, doing so in all humility, not thinking for a moment that they’re better. And there’s a sense in which we are trying to help each other in our struggles.

Praying for each other is so underrated. And simply being present, listening, as well. Not necessarily having a word to say, but being sympathetic, by God’s gift empathetic. Taking seriously all their thoughts, seeking to understand their situation. Agreeing where one can agree. All this takes wisdom from God. We need to try to be steeped in God’s wisdom from the wisdom writings in Scripture, and from day to day interaction with God, seeking the wisdom we need here and there, ourselves.

This seems to be all but a missing art and practice in our churches. But when someone does it even a little bit, what a difference it can make. God can and will bless that honest attempt in love to help another. And we all need this from time to time, some probably more than others, but none of us excluded. In and through Jesus.