get ready to suffer

Since, therefore, Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same intention (for whoever has suffered in the flesh has finished with sin), so as to live for the rest of your time in the flesh no longer by human desires but by the will of God. You have already spent enough time in doing what the gentiles like to do, living in debauchery, passions, drunkenness, revels, carousing, and lawless idolatry. They are surprised that you no longer join them in the same excesses of dissipation, and so they blaspheme. But they will have to give an accounting to him who stands ready to judge the living and the dead. For this is the reason the gospel was proclaimed even to the dead, so that, though they had been judged in the flesh as everyone is judged, they might live in the spirit as God does.

1 Peter 4:1-6

Peter’s first letter was to a suffering church, to persecuted believers or those about to undergo persecution for their faith. We know the story well, Christians thrown to the lions, burned at the stake. And then centuries following. Although ever since Constantine changed the Roman empire into a so-called Christian one in which for example only professing Christians could serve in the Roman military, Christians and what is from that, Christendom has sought to take matters into its own hands and that in significant part in order to avoid persecution, and effectively nullify the way of the cross, the path of following Christ.

Today we have another rise of a new push for a Christendom which as someone has said involves Christo-fascist overlords. It is the push away from democracy to an authoritarian rule in which Christian appointed leaders call the shots. And that isn’t just metaphorical, because in all such so-called Christian rule, which is not really Christian at all in any way, shape or form, there will be force and violence. Instead of depending on the good news of Christ in which people choose to follow and living bodies of Christ are formed, you have a rule of the land which forces its view on everyone.

We can expect, just as Jesus experienced, to receive the most trouble from the religious over us, namely those who name the name of Christ. These are the most dangerous, because they are the most self-assured, and are steeped in a kind of Christendom which they feel and somehow think needs to be imposed on the world. It amounts to a white Christian nationalism which is cultic in the sense that it has people in its grip with the works of the flesh (Galatians 5) needed to ensure its existence as opposed to the true fruit of love for God and neighbor in the works of Christ along with the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5). And above all again, it nullifies the way of the cross, the true and only path of following Christ.

We are facing difficult times. So as followers of Christ, let’s seek to be wise as serpents while being harmless as doves. Let’s attempt to see clearly who our enemies are along with those who back them and thus amount to enemies as well. Let’s call what is wrong, wrong. And let us love all in the midst of this. And get ready to suffer as Peter instructs us in the passage above. In and through Jesus.

from the place of privilege and power (and willful or unwilful ignorance)

If you faint in the day of adversity,
your strength being small;
if you hold back from rescuing those taken away to death,
those who go staggering to the slaughter;
if you say, “Look, we did not know this”—
does not he who weighs the heart perceive it?
Does not he who keeps watch over your soul know it?
And will he not repay all according to their deeds?

Proverbs 24:10-12

Today is the second year of the newest US federal holiday, Juneteenth. It commemorates the day when slaves in Texas at last realized that they were free, a freedom that had to be enforced. Unfortunately that freedom was not maintained over the decades following so that there was an ongoing need not only to resist the evil of white supremacy seen in lynchings of blacks, but also the necessity of the Civil Rights Movement to claim basic human rights and equality.

To think that all is much better now so that there’s a level playing field and that all is well and good is simply to be uninformed and ignorant of the problems from the past that are very much present. And it’s a continued refusal to listen and consider the cries of those who suffer not only a secondary status at best, but injustice simply because of their skin color or ethnicity. It is an ongoing problem here in the United States due to white supremacy and the support of that in Christian nationalism, which when looked at is found to be racist so that it really amounts to white Christian nationalism in keeping with its story of the founding of the United States. And with the insistence that history not be taught, for example how much of the US economy and US itself was actually built by slaves.

Juneteenth is celebration for those set free, but it should include the rest of us to consider what this means in the present time, and to lament over the wrong and injury suffered, as well as to lament and resist calls for renewed white supremacist rule thought to return the US to an imagined and fabricated greatness and glory of the past. Make no mistake about it, it seems clear that at least there are forces out there active to bring this all about. And a major part of Christianity here is deafly silent because of the complicity of many with this from its ranks, not to mention it doesn’t seem to have either a sufficient theology and understanding of the gospel along with the will to counter that and present a better alternative.

It is a challenging time. But we have to stand up to it in a peaceful way. Willing though not wanting to risk life and limb but preferring to be facilitators of more needed change. With eyes to see, ears to hear, and hearts open to learn from others and from God. And to pray and act accordingly, especially from the lead of those who know firsthand what this is all about. In and through Jesus.

casting out into the deep, venturing into the unknown at Christ’s word

Once while Jesus was standing beside the Lake of Gennesaret and the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, he saw two boats there at the shore of the lake; the fishermen had gotten out of them and were washing their nets. He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little way from the shore. Then he sat down and taught the crowds from the boat. When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.” Simon answered, “Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.” When they had done this, they caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to burst. So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both boats, so that they began to sink. But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’s knees, saying, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!” For he and all who were with him were astounded at the catch of fish that they had taken, and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. Then Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.” When they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him.

Luke 5:1-11

This is an interesting, even amazing story at a number of levels. What I would like to dwell on is just one aspect of it. Jesus’s words to those he would subsequently call to be his followers. Telling them to cast their nets into the deep, even though they had just caught nothing after being at it all night. It surely made little to no sense to them. But they did it, and the rest and all that follows is history.

This is akin to what I’ve experienced in the last few years right up to the present time. I’ve been wanting to find a Mennonite fellowship, but none in the area where we moved a few decades back. At a certain point I was informed that there was a new fellowship which had met for some time but had recently become Mennonite. So I looked them up. They were clearly in the activist strain, which was okay to me, but took a strong stand of affirming LGBTQ+ for membership, leadership and marriage. Even though I had questions and tensions with the traditional view, that is where I still landed on that issue at the time. They also take a clear stand in regard to support for the riddance of systemic racism, and I and my wife were totally on board with that.

After getting together with them one Sunday online due to COVID, I decided we just couldn’t go through with this. Deb was leaning on me for the decision during that time, surely praying. And I had a great peace, I take it as psychological now, and slept like a baby. But oddly enough I had a strong sense, it is almost as if the Lord were appearing to me in my imagination, and telling me, You don’t have to come, but I’m very much present here. And so we showed up the next Sunday, and we’ve never turned back.

Around the same time, probably shortly after, it was as if the Lord told me that I need to be in the book of James. And I have ever since, and it has been amazing, even life changing, though of course that is incremental. I’ve come a way, and certainly have a long way to go.

Now something similar is happening to me with regard to anxiety. If you know me, or have read this blog much at all, you’ll realize that anxiety has been an ongoing, nearly always an issue with me. I’ve struggled with it, virtually lived in anxiety for years and decades. Although I think I’ve made some progress in how I deal with it, it still could set me back on my heels and worse. Well recently I think I’m beginning to hear the call to launch out into the deep and simply refuse to worry, to be anxious. And to see the newest thing that comes to mind that would have always made me anxious before, to simply be a new opportunity to refuse anxiety.

Of course, I do so dialing in to what God has provided in Scripture through Christ. We can do none of this on our own, it’s only God’s grace. We’re a part of a small group which has a strong emphasis on grace, and that has helped much. But paradoxically it will require effort on our part. We have to let go of all our strivings and devices, and make ourselves sit at Jesus’s feet.

This is all about launching into the deep at Jesus’s words. The difference maker is Jesus. Not our interpretation of Scripture, which by the way in regard to the LGBTQIA+ issue I think is suspect and is a door slam shut in the face of true Christ followers. Only Jesus. But we have to listen, really listen. And then we have to follow and keep following. Thankfully Christ is always ahead of us and with us. We’re not on our own. 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.

a new thing

Do not remember the former things
or consider the things of old.
I am about to do a new thing;
now it springs forth; do you not perceive it?
I will make a way in the wilderness
and rivers in the desert.
The wild animals will honor me,
the jackals and the ostriches,
for I give water in the wilderness,
rivers in the desert,
to give drink to my chosen people,
the people whom I formed for myself
so that they might declare my praise.

Isaiah 43:18-21; NRSVue

Imagining something different can be God-given, a gift from God. Whether it’s personal or societal, hopefully both. We don’t want to think that we’re either forever in the same rut the rest of our lives, or that the world itself can’t improve in certain marked ways. I have to think though that God’s main work is in Christ within God’s people. Out from that touching and affecting everything. I think now of the sad, sometimes blatant racism which afflicts this nation and in various ways, the world. And other forms of injustice and wrong, as well.

God wants to do something new in our lives and through us into the lives of other, into the world at large, even if that ends up simply being a witness of how things ought to be. We must not let go of this thought, of this hope. This is from God, God’s word.

It will certainly be challenged, and we have to be ready for that. But unlike Israel of old…

Yet you did not call upon me, O Jacob;
but you have been weary of me, O Israel!

Isaiah 43:22; NRSVue

….we need to persist in faith, “let go and let God,” take hold of God and God’s promises and insist on that and no less than that. Instead of being weary of God, not growing weary of claiming God’s promises and seeking to live in the clear, in God’s will ourselves along with others in Christ. And wanting to see that light shine out on a dark world. In and through Jesus.

trying to see the big picture

Woe to you who desire the day of the LORD!
Why do you want the day of the LORD?
It is darkness, not light,
as if someone fled from a lion
and was met by a bear
or went into the house and rested a hand against the wall
and was bitten by a snake.
Is not the day of the LORD darkness, not light,
and gloom with no brightness in it?

I hate, I despise your festivals,
and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies.
Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings,
I will not accept them,
and the offerings of well-being of your fatted animals
I will not look upon.
Take away from me the noise of your songs;
I will not listen to the melody of your harps.
But let justice roll down like water
and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.

Amos 5:18-24; NRSVue

Trying to see the big picture, things as they really are will require both an openness and sustained effort on our part. Amos is a prophet who certainly saw, something inherent within prophets, earlier called seers, receiving a vision from God. And often that vision had everything to do with the times in which they lived, seeing the current situation in light of God’s revealed will, eventually in light of the kingdom of God which was and is meant to bring flourishing to all of humanity, to all of creation.

Amos’s words, indeed his calling was not an easy one, certainly true of all the Hebrew prophets. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. echoed Amos’s words in the most difficult task he undertook of seeking racial justice, equality, and reconciliation. King’s passion was rooted in the gospel, the good news of Christ, and the vision cast through that, calling America to the best in its tradition, though it’s not certain that the US Constitution advocated for individual liberty for all, but that’s another topic, and well beyond what I could address (interesting article on this). But after decades and decades, not to mention centuries of wrongdoing to the Africans enslaved in America, the United States went through the upheaval it did hitting against the climax of the Civil War. Yet not ending with that as more was in the works given that much was not healed and made right. True to a significant extent right up to the present day, in fact becoming most evident in recent times.

There’s no question that just like during Amos’s time, we are up against what seems to be intractable forces, or to try to make it clearer, it seems like the fallout is here, that we are going through a perfect storm as it were, that the result of our ways (I include myself in that, too) has pressed in on us. That people on both sides have had enough. During Amos’s time the poor and oppressed could do little. During our time there is both the sense in which they think they can do more, but those who give up are often tempted to despair with a few giving into violence. And those whites who feel their lives are needlessly threatened by all of this, a few of them are ready for violence as well.

Both Amos and Dr. Martin Luther King’s call is entirely different. It is about stepping back and trying to see the big picture both in terms of what actually is, and what God would have be. That comes through being in scripture (Hebrew scripture and the New Testament- considering the Apocrypha with that) and prayer. And doing so in community, but all of this with an eye to try to see the current reality. Listening to everyone, especially those who are marginalized or feel that way. The poor, the stranger, and in this time where I live, first of all the people of color beginning with African Americans and the indigenous, and along with them all others: refugees, Muslims, Chinese, etc.

Unless we do this, we’re not actually seeing as either the prophets or Jesus saw. With the goal of acting in the love of God which Jesus brought with the willingness to suffer in love and out of that same love, for others. Knowing that the good news in Jesus is one of reconciliation of all, involving working through everything that means. In and through Jesus.

heads up on white privilege

They served him by himself and them by themselves, and the Egyptians who ate with him by themselves, because the Egyptians could not eat with the Hebrews, for that is an abomination to the Egyptians.

Genesis 43:32; NRSVue

In the United States there’s great controversy practically raging over what is now called “wokeness,” the awareness that the systems have had and continue to have an adverse effect on people of color, particularly African Americans. Though when you study US history, you’ll find that people of different ethnicities have often had a major problem, especially when first coming to the United States, or due to events. But the two major glaring sins of the United States have been the displacement of the indigenous (in my younger years, called “Indians”) and the enslavement of Africans. And what has come from that so that African Americans often find themselves more segregated in the north than they were in the south, and in places that become run down as well as depositories of unhealthy waste. Yes, strides have been made, but there still is discrepancy and disparity, serious overall in actual net worth monetarily. And that is as much the result of the advantages whites have had over many generations, as it is the result of blacks being disadvantaged throughout the same time.

Some will inevitably say that I am now being divisive and also not talking about something positive and helpful. But I would challenge all to keep reading their Bibles from cover to cover and pay close attention to the marked emphasis over and over again on God’s concern for the poor, as well as God’s action, including salvation and deliverance, not to mention judgment against injustice. It is not helpful nor true to scripture to read it all as if it has to do with our personal relationship to God. The gospel covers that and all of life. The light of the good news in Jesus comes into every dark or we might say instead bleak place. And it exposes all that is false, wrong, and contrary to God’s good will.

It is never enough just to read the Bible. Never. We must also pay attention to life itself. What is God saying through our reading of the Bible which actually pertains to the real world out there? And not just our world of course, but the world of others, particularly the poor and the oppressed and certainly add to that the refugee.

Yes, we need to be awakened to all that is wrong. To listen to those who are affected. To pray yes, but also to find out ways that we can help. In this case being willing to acknowledge that we may have been blind, and I personally know that I have, to a white privilege which has excluded or placed burdens and barriers on those of our human family who are black, with other people of color included. Something for us to be awakened to if we’re to take scripture and the gospel seriously. In and through Jesus.

devotion to prayer along with certain kind of prayer

Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with thanksgiving. At the same time pray for us as well that God will open to us a door for the word, that we may declare the mystery of Christ, for which I am in prison, so that I may reveal it clearly, as I should.

Colossians 4:2-4

Prayers of all kinds for ourselves and for others should be a practice which we regularly do. We should have a special prayer time along with prayer punctuating our days. Again, all kinds of prayers. For needs, but also with praise and thanksgiving. But looking to God. Waiting on God. Wanting God’s help, even breakthrough for whatever problems we and others are facing.

Usually when we read Paul’s personal request in the above passage, we think of it mostly if not completely in terms of souls getting saved. While that’s certainly included, the ramifications of the gospel are often all but lost. We should be praying for those in strategic places, who are in the open, that the word which goes out from them will not only save souls, but shake and shape the world in terms of the gospel. That all the barriers of “race” might be broken down, that the principalities and powers embedded in the world system might be served notice not only that their day is going to come, but that in a sense it’s already here, as we anticipate the curtain closing on them when the present kingdom of God finally enters in in its fullness at Christ’s return.

We need to begin to understand that the wisdom of God through Christ and the way of the cross is not only the power of salvation for all who believe, but also through the church serves notice to the principalities and powers of the world order that something good is coming, a light penetrating the darkness, and indeed exposing them for what they truly are. That is the way of the cross, the way of the love that comes from Christ. So that the world will be shaken, and ultimately turned upside down, really right side up. As we anticipate the Day when all of this will be finalized once forever when Jesus returns.

In and through Jesus.

Christ’s judgment on the nations

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left.”

Matthew 25:31-33

I wish this passage from Christ’s lips would be taken seriously by those who claim to be Christians. But when it’s not taught with its ramifications, then it will be largely lost, not a part of what faith and life consists of for the many who don’t even see themselves as Christ followers. This goes beyond that, and is really an indictment against the church, which can end up not only asleep at the switch, but even a part of the problem if it doesn’t really take seriously a passage like this, and its implications for life based on the rest of Scripture.

Jesus’s words here echo something of the concern of the Hebrew (Old Testament) prophets about God’s vision of shalom: peace and prosperity for all, which while we know will never be entirely fulfilled until he returns, nevertheless is at the forefront of Jesus’s words of blessing and judgment in this passage.

Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family,[a] you did it to me.’ Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’ Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

Matthew 25:34-46

Individuals yes, but also nations will be judged by how they treated those in need, and that includes how they treated all. The rich nations who do not help the poor, indebted nations. Who put their own prosperity ahead of ending terrorism and starvation. Who put national interest above the good of others, and are willing to kill innocents in the process. Nations which refuse to help those fleeing war and death. Nations which have made systems of evil and hold on to them, against ethnicities, here in the United States obviously, against African Americans, along with the Native Americans. And the widening gap between the rich and the poor cannot rightfully be ignored. Christ will judge all of that, and will judge whatever complicity we’ve had in it.

So we need to become aware of this, develop a conscience that is no longer seared, but becoming sensitive, so that we can begin to see Christ where we’ve never seen him before. And be present to help in whatever ways we can. 

In and through Jesus.

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.